If bear hugs are your thing, you absolutely have to pop in to your local Build-A-Bear workshop with your kids this festive season, or perhaps save it for a ‘Build-A-Bear Workshop Party’ for your kid’s next birthday?
Ilan, Kira and I were treated to an afternoon workshop experience at Build-A-Bear, Canal Walk a few weeks ago and it was just magical. The kids were able to customise their bears from scratch – they could select their bear (there are superhero choices for the boys!); record a voice message or choose a scent for their bear; stuff their bear (see video below) and then ‘make their bear come alive’ through a little heartwarming ceremony full of kisses. Before they left they were also led in a little chant: ‘Best friends are furr-ever, so I promise right now to make my bear my number one pal’ and given birth certificates for their bears. A sweet afternoon from start to finish.
Today is World Adoption Day – a worldwide awareness campaign and celebration of adoption. It’s a day to celebrate the joy of adoption but also to remember the loss of first families and ‘honour the full range of experiences and feelings of adoptees’ (paraphrased quote from my friend and new Heart Mama, Erin Jegels).
I’m so keen to share this next adoption story – Geoffrey is a Durban-born Glenwood boy who was a student there when my husband was teaching back in the day which is how Geoffrey and I started chatting. And now we’re friends on Facebook which is legit. Geoffrey, thanks for sharing your personal story with us!
What is your definition of adoption?
To me adoption is when someone is accepted into a family as if they were born from that family. They take on the family name and characteristics and are included in all aspects of that particular family.
How do you feel about adoption in general?
Adoption is great. They say blood is thicker than water etc but I don’t always believe in that entirely because sometimes people are meant to be in each other lives for many unknown reasons and adoption allows that to happen. It was like that for me anyway.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your family
I am 25 years of age. I am completing my second year as a candidate attorney at a prestigious Law firm in Durban, Shepstone and Wylie, specialising in the maritime department (International Trade, Transport and Energy). I am a sports enthusiast and currently compete in Powerlifting. I have 3 sisters and one brother who are all much older than me. I am the only adopted child in the family. My parents played a huge role in raising a few of my cousins that live/ lived with us, so growing up there was always children my age around the house. At home now it’s just my mom, Brenda, my closest sister Michelle and my 14 year old cousin, Brian. My dad unfortunately passed on quite some time ago.
How do you feel about your parents?
Love my parents. That’s an easy one. I didn’t see as much as I would have liked of my father as he worked away from home a lot but I loved him, still do, miss him a lot, always respected the sacrifices he made to provide for his family and for me. I used to just sit and watch him, he wouldn’t always speak a lot but I learnt plenty from his actions and the wise things he did tell me. My mom, well she is just a gem. She is probably the only person that truly understands me, even emotionally, she’s my confidant, the number 1 lady in my life. We were meant to be in each other’s lives.
How do you feel about your biological parents?
I don’t know them. What I will say is that I am grateful that they allowed the adoption process to go through. I have never wanted to connect with my biological parents and family.
How were you told that you were adopted?
My parents made sure that I knew from day one as far back as I can remember, that I was adopted. What is important to note here is that my family also always told me how much they loved me and physically showed me so I never once felt like I was different. I grew up thinking that I was one of them, part of the family, I still think that way even though I’m brown.
Has race been an issue? Has race affected your friendships?
Yes race has affected friendships but the friends I have in my life now, the longest standing friends, have never seen it as an issue and so I am extremely lucky to have a close group of friends from various race groups.
What has been the hardest part of adoption for you?
Hardest part of adoption for me has been the way in which society have looked at my family and myself. Lots of people are happy when they find out I’m adopted but unfortunately the majority of people are still very anti especially when I tell them I can’t speak Zulu etc. It’s funny because if I wasn’t adopted I probably wouldn’t be alive today yet they want to criticize a family who in essence saved a life and gave an opportunity to better their future. Its sad how backwards most people are in their thinking. I learnt from a young age to accept being different and have a tough exterior which has made me the strong secure person I am today.
Hmmm language, well I am a bit different. I have never wanted to learn to speak zulu, that’s my own choice. It might be because all my life people have been telling me to learn it and that it’s my duty to know it as it’s my mother tongue etc but who are they to say what my mother tongue should be just because of my skin colour. I hate being told what to do haha so it’s probably why I do the opposite.
Do you wish you had been taught Zulu as a kid? How do you think white parents of adopted kids should negotiate language?
I feel that because I am black it doesn’t mean that I must speak Zulu. I think it’s very arrogant for people to think that. I am black but I could be from France or Scandinavia etc especially in today’s world.
So to answer your question I think have your child speak the language spoken in the family home. And then expose them to various languages and let your child decide what additional language they want to speak if any. I used France because I would probably want to learn French or even a Scandinavian language before I learn to speak zulu. It’s just my preference. People might say it’s crazy because you need to learn Zulu if you are living in South Africa but honestly English is fine and who says your child will want to stay in south Africa. The world is so big, you never know where they could venture off to.
Is there anything in particular your parents did really well? Anything they could have done differently?
My parents never forced anything and allowed things to happen naturally. They showed me love like any other parents would show their children and I therefore believe there is nothing different they could have done.
How can adoptive parents best equip their children to deal with the hard parts of being adopted cross culturally?
I would say love them. Let them know that they aren’t different, that we are all human. Show that particular child their beauty or strong points and help them focus on those points growing up while minimising any weaker flaws they might have, just as any person would have.
Are you treated differently by people of your birth culture when they discover that you are adopted by parents of another race?
Yes, most of the time I am treated negatively. I’ve reached a point now where I walk away from them while they are in mid sentence if they happen to be speaking to me negatively.
Was/is “belonging” and feeling like you belonged ever an issue?
Yes, when I was younger, never at home but with society before I ‘found myself’ and realised the type of person I am. The process that every young adolescent goes through while growing up.
What would you say to other kids who have been adopted?
I would tell them to embrace what’s inside of them. Tell them that they should never change to be accepted by others. They must stay true to themselves and let people know who they are.|
What should adoptive parents say to their adopted child?
Tell them that you love them, that you are their parents. More importantly it’s what you do. Show them the world and try to teach them to understand it and that people will have negative things to say but let them know that they are stronger than those people or bad situations. Tell them to be proud. Tell them to reach for the stars.
What not to say to your adopted child?
Things like: ” your parents hated you” and “that’s why we adopted you” or “nobody loved you” etc.
So our kids have been begging for a puppy for the longest time but it’s just not going to happen for them right now – we live in a complex with a no dogs rule and to be honest, I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready for the barking and constant poop scooping that comes with the territory. Enter a special delivery from Fisher Price to save me from their constant nags and voila, my kids are overnight pet owners – to a Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Puppy! (And this particular pet is cute and fluffy and has an off button.)
Our much loved Laugh & Learn pup has been given the name ‘Puppy’ and is the toy of the moment in our house. He’s not only teaching our kids colours and parts of the body but is teaching them how to SHARE too. I’m a long time Fisher Price fan as their toys are educational, durable, built to last and there is definitely a degree of sentimentality attached to the brand for me. This toy is no different and just see how much Kira loves playing with Puppy:
Puppy is for kids from 6 to 36 months and has three different age appropriate stages (there is a button on the left foot to switch between the stages) and you can also press and hold puppy’s heart to play all 20 sing-along songs in a row. Even though Kira and Ilan are both over 36 months, they still love taking turns pressing the buttons and singing along with their pup. Judah who is two and half is beyond besotted with Puppy and when the novelty of the new toy wears off with the others, I think he will claim it as his own.
These are the Smart Stages of the Laugh & Learn pup, with learning content that changes as your baby grows:
Explore 6 months + – Teaches first words, colours and parts of the body.
Encourage 12 months + – Teaches counting and colours with sing-along songs.
Pretend 18 months + – Baby enjoys roles play fun with songs, phrases and music
Sleep – You can switch your pup to silent so that there are is no sound or lights.
Why I love this toy for my kids: You can select high or low volume (um, you can guess which one I chose!) and the sound is not grating at all. I generally avoid toys with batteries, but Puppy get the thumbs up from me. And because Puppy makes learning fun – it’s the sweetest thing to hear your kids singing together first thing in the mornings. We’re loving our new pet!
What’s your favourite Fisher Price toy?
If you’d like to find out more about the Fisher Price toy range, follow them on Facebook.
Naomi is a local-living, British-born Heart Mama who started the adoption process soon after gaining permanent residency in South Africa and was surprised with twins – double joy! We met online in the Passionate about Adoption Facebook group and have a couple of mutual friends but this is the first time I’ve heard her adoption story. Thanks for sharing it with us, Naomi!
Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.
My husband, Troskie, and I have been married for 9 ½ years. I’m from the UK and he’s South African. We met in England in 2006 and moved to Cape Town in 2012, where I immediately felt ‘at home’.
In August 2015, after 9 months of waiting… we found out we were to receive a double blessing; not just the one baby we were expecting and were all set up for, but we got ‘the call’ and discovered we had been matched with TWINS! To our even greater surprise we were asked if we could pick them up in two days?! So, we went from being ‘just the two of us’ to a ‘family of four’ virtually overnight. We celebrated Esther & Josiah’s Homecoming, a year ago, on 19 August 2015; undoubtedly the happiest day of our lives! The twins were almost six months old when they came home to us and their Homecoming Day was exactly 1 month before my 40th Birthday!
We had wanted to adopt two children and loved the idea of having a boy and a girl, so these two precious munchkins have completed our family perfectly and have turned our world upside down. We find it quite incredible how well matched we are to our children, as Esther’s character and personality are so much like her mama and Josiah is just like his dada in so many ways! We know without a doubt that God has chosen us to be their parents and them to be our children.
Did you always know that you wanted to adopt?
Adoption has always been on my heart. Ever since I was a young girl and was personally adopted into God’s family, I knew that I would one day adopt and that adoption was part of God’s plan for me. Interestingly, a couple of years later my parents adopted my older brother. This was not without its challenges, as I was the eldest of three daughters and was nine when my parents adopted my brother who was eleven. Although it is now not recommended to adopt out of birth order (and I completely agree that it has significant implications for both existing children and adoptees), I do believe God chose my brother to join our family.
When I met my husband, we talked about adopting one day and although he had not really considered adoption before, he was in complete agreement with the idea and shared my heart to open our home and family to children who were in need of a loving home. When we got married, we both decided we wanted to have children by birth and adoption and always said, “Whatever happens first!” Unfortunately, we soon discovered that I had a severe gynae condition which was not only physically debilitating but which prevented us from conceiving. So, when we moved to South Africa and I gained my permanent residency, we decided to start the process of adoption.
As adoption was a relatively new concept for my husband, I wanted to be sure that we were on the same page and that he was 100% certain about adopting before we proceeded with the process. We attended the Arise Conference in 2012, soon after we arrived in Cape Town, where Troskie found he gained all the information he needed to know and understand, as well as the space to process the questions he had about it all. It was a very valuable time for us both.
Did you use an agency or did you adopt through Child Welfare? What would you recommend?
I always like to gather as much information as possible so we can make informed decisions, so we attended the Arise Conference and I contacted a number of different adoption agencies and Child Welfare here in Cape Town. I also joined a couple of adoption groups on Facebook and spoke to friends who have adopted. Having all the information and approached a few different social workers, we both felt at peace that Abba Adoptions were the right people for us to pursue our adoption journey with. They are wonderful people and their adoption administration fees are extremely affordable, as they are government subsidised and offer a sliding scale depending on income. We were really happy with the service, love and support we received by Abba Adoptions on our adoption journey and the care they took in matching us to our precious children.
We highly recommend Abba but I would recommend anyone who is interested in adoption to contact a few different options and find who you feel most comfortable with. Also, if you can, do attend the annual Arise Conference (happening in November 2016 in Cape Town and PE) as it’s incredibly informative and answers so many of the questions you are burning to ask and even those you didn’t know you had.
What was the hardest part of the process?
The waiting and uncertainty of when to expect our baby was most definitely the hardest part for us. Especially the months of waiting to be matched, after we had completed the interview stages and been approved as adoptive parents. We had waited so long to start our family over the years and had dealt with much pain and heartache together, and this final stage of waiting during the months after being approved seemed to go on forever! In actual fact it was only 5 months and incredibly it took 9 months altogether, since we first handed in our adoption application.
It was amazing that as soon as we heard the news that we had been matched and all the waiting was finally over – all the frustrations and anxieties we had felt about ‘when will it happen?’ melted away – we were suddenly going to become a family of four and our lives would never be the same again! When you hold your precious baby (or in our case babies) in your arms, all the waiting and angst pales into insignificance and you know it has all most definitely been worth the wait!
What was your first night together as a family like?
Bringing our babies home was so incredible, if a little surreal! Was this REALLY happening?!
The minute I saw Esther & Josiah in the baby home, I knew that they were my son and daughter. My daughter’s little face lit up with the most beautiful smile when she saw me smiling at her; it was such a precious moment! And my son clung to me so tightly, smiled happily as I cuddled him and let me feed him… Driving home with them strapped into their car seats on the back seat of our car, it suddenly dawned on us that they were actually coming home with us and that this was forever! I think we both felt a huge weight of responsibility and fear in that moment! Hoping we could be all that they needed us to be as their parents.
Just before we met the twins, we had been given a whole lot of information at our meeting with the social workers and baby home staff so it was all a little overwhelming, but I was immensely thankful that the babies had been so well cared for and had a great routine in place, so we could just continue to go with the routine when we got home and this certainly helped them settle very quickly. I was amazed that they were not at all distressed or anxious when we got to our home. It was almost as if they knew they were ‘home’!
We bathed them, fed them their bottle and put them to bed (following their usual routine) and they went off to sleep really well… Then, our first night of very little sleep began, as Esther woke up 7 times, needing to be fed and comforted! A year on, she still wakes 2-4 times a night! Thankfully her brother is a much better sleeper. Yet, for me, even the wake ups were such a joy; as I went in and held my baby girl, I was filled with so much love and adoration for this precious soul who had been entrusted to me, it frequently made me cry!
What is your funniest adoption-related family story?
Not sure if this counts but probably the funniest thing that regularly happens for us is people’s reaction to realising they are twins! We often go for walks and have an inline stroller for two kids. So, people walking towards us will see the first baby (whoever gets the front seat that day) and will smile and think how cute they are but then, as they pass us, they spot the foot or hand of the second baby sticking out from the seat behind, and they look so surprised, and often exclaim, “Wow, are they twins?!” It’s become quite funny for us to see people’s reactions.
Do you celebrate ‘adoption day’ with any traditions?
We celebrate their Homecoming Day: 19 August. We read their adoption story book together and look at the photos and also give them a small gift to open. Their Xhosa names (which we have kept as their middle names) mean ‘gift’; we explain to them that they were not only a gift from God but that their birth mom chose their Xhosa names and also chose us to be their parents and for us to be a forever family and so they are a precious ‘gift’ to us from her.
Our final adoption order was received in June this year! It is a day we acknowledge but don’t really celebrate as we became a ‘family’ the day they came home!
Advice for the screening process?
As I said before, I think it is wise to gather as much information about adoption and the process as possible before you choose a social worker and start the screening process. Joining a group like the ‘Passionate about Adoption’ Facebook group and reading blogs like this one, to hear stories from other people who have gone through the process, can be really helpful in order to ask questions and process your thoughts and fears.
It is essential that you and your partner (if you have one) are both on the same page and in agreement with adopting before you start the process. You want to be sure you are informed about what to expect before your start the screening process, but just know that you also learn so much on the adoption journey and your feelings and preferences can change during the process… Finding the right social worker to walk that journey with you, who hears your hearts and understands you, is really key. Don’t rush that part. Take your time and know that it will all come together at the right time!
How can friends and family best support those adopting?
Although we live far from both sides of our immediate family (my family all live in the UK, and Troskie’s are in Johannesburg, Mpumalanga and Kwa-Zulu Natal), we knew that my parents and all our siblings were supportive of our decision to adopt. It was something we have talked openly about for some time and so it was not really a surprise to them all. We also openly shared the information and advice we had been given by our agency to prepare our family and friends for the imminent arrival of our babies. Because this was a transracial adoption, it was important to talk openly about issues of race as well as how we would not be sharing their personal story as that is their story and not ours to share.
Being far away from immediate family, we are hugely thankful for our loving community of friends around us and their support of us as a family. Some of the best supportive things were:
Organising a meal rota for our first month of being a family (as we do for families expecting a baby by birth). This was incredibly helpful as you just don’t have the mental energy to consider what you are going to eat!!
Arranging a baby shower to celebrate our new arrivals.
Showing interest and asking questions about the adoption process and being emotionally involved in the process with us.
Accepting and reading the information we shared about the realities and complexities of adoption, especially transracial adoption, and being willing to listen and learn and consider the words and language they use when discussing adoption.
Being excited with us and supporting our decisions.
Top tip for doing life as a rainbow nation family?
Get to know other families who have adopted and share your adoption journeys and life.
Be intentional about living in diverse areas and growing your friendship circles to include people of your children’s race and culture.
Be intentional about learning your child’s birth language and encourage them to learn the language, as well as understanding and connecting with their birth culture.
Be intentional about learning to care for their beautiful natural hair and celebrate their differences (I have found a fabulous Facebook group who have been inspirational in learning how to nurture and care for both my children’s hair and learn protective styles for my daughter’s hair: Chocolate Hair Care).
Be intentional about finding similarities in your child’s character, physical qualities, personalities and interests, to you and your family that will really connect them to you and their forever family and help with bonding.
Be prepared to attract attention!
One thing we really were not prepared for was the ‘lime-light’ of being a transracial family! I used to enjoy going for a walk and being anonymous, that is no longer possible as you attract so much attention wherever you go. Babies will generally attract attention anyway, I know (as people enjoy coming to coo over and admire your little one). Having twins also increases the attraction (with frequent questions like “Are they twins?!” and “Are they identical?!”) and the fact that we have twins who are clearly of a different race obviously adds yet another level of fascination (“Are they your children?!”)
Most of the attention we receive has been very positive and encouraging, as people seem genuinely intrigued by our family and we have been greeted with many smiles which is great. Occasionally you meet someone who insists on asking quite intimate questions. It is good to be prepared for this and have an answer. For the question, “Are they your children?” I simple answer, “Yes!” My standard answer to questions about their birth mom or their adoption is, “I’m afraid we are not sharing that information, as it is not my story to tell.” For questions about fertility (and you’ll be shocked just how many strangers will ask, “Can’t you have your own children?”) I simply say “That’s personal information [and really want to say “That’s really none of your business!”]
Most people are simply intrigued and I want to be a positive advocate for adoption so I do take the time to answer any questions that I can answer and help educate the world around us… I am conscious that as our babies grow up and hear these questions from others, how I respond is really important in how they will ultimately see themselves and understand their adoption. So my answers need to be carefully considered in this light…
So, do be prepared that you will lose your ability to just quietly ‘pop to the shops’ or ‘go for a walk’ without having a conversation with someone, somewhere! But I have chosen to see this in a positive light and as an opportunity to help open people’s eyes and minds to accepting and embracing difference.
Are you looking for a great way to spend R20 and entertain your kids at the same time? Well, next time you’re at Spur (as if you need another reason), make sure you purchase the new #SpurGoggles which are now available with any Spur meal. It’s a simple virtual reality viewer that can offer a great deal of entertainment – both for the kids as well as any adult that is watching their kids experience virtual reality for the first time!
So, how does it work?
Purchase a pair of Spur goggles and make sure that your phone is compatible – Samsung: Galaxy S4, S5, S6, S7 and Nexus; Apple: iPhone 5, 5s, 6, 6s; Google: Nexus 4 and 5; Motorola: Moto X
Download free virtual reality games or videos – go to www.spurgoggles.co.za from your phone or take a look here for more details.
Put your phone into the VR viewer and close the flap.
Look around, explore and play!
Our favourite game so far is the VR Roller Coaster – Ilan says ‘It’s like going on a roller coaster for real life!’ And I’m telling you this game can make your stomach flip but it’s amazing how kids don’t seem to get queasy the same way us grownups do. Click play below to see Ilan in action: