a prose poem and painting by
JENNIFER BABCOCK | Mother + Artist
“Passageways: Yemaderi,” is oil on canvas, and has a variety of texture emphasized by glazes of thin paint. It captures the movement of two women moving through passageways to their daily devotion. When I think about the meaning of passageways, I’m not solely focusing on physical places. I’m looking for something deeper and richer. What does it mean to pass from one place to another either physically, emotionally, or spiritually? This was inspired by the churches and people we witnessed in Lalibela, Ethiopia, as we expanded our family through the adoption of three girls from Ethiopia.
24″x36,” oil on canvas
I ALREADY HAD FIVE DAUGHTERS, so when I woke up one morning with a burning desire to look into adoption, the idea took my breath away. Later fear tried to talk me out of it but my husband wouldn’t let me forget my desires. He said it would be amazing, and worked by my side.
When people asked why we wanted to adopt older children, I told them, we are already doing these ages. When people asked why girls, I told them, because we have girls. When people asked why Ethiopia, I told them, I have been connected to Ethiopia all of my life. My parents were in the Peace Corps in the early 60s, and my sister was born there.
My oldest daughter had challenged me the most up to that point. She did everything I hoped I could protect a child of mine from doing. She was the first child who shattered my heart, but she also gifted me with the realization that it’s possible to survive something like that. I saw that she could survive too. I believed she prepared me well for adopting older children, who (from what I read) could have experienced some of life’s worst.
But the truth is, I didn’t know anything.
I didn’t know how intense the hurt of a child could be to leave her grandma at seven years old. I didn’t know how many years that hurt could last. I didn’t know it will probably be forever. I didn’t know how the hurt would manifest itself in anger and bitterness and how that could impact every single other child in our home. I didn’t know that I could become so angry in return.
I didn’t know that I would be holding a gut wrenching sobbing fourteen-year-old who had experienced intense privation. I couldn’t comprehend the depth of her pain and anger at her parents. I didn’t understand what it meant to be lost.
I didn’t know that the disillusionment of my thirteen-year-old would mean her distrust would leech into so many aspects of her life. I didn’t know how challenged I would be at answering persistent questions, and I didn’t know that the answers that made sense to me wouldn’t necessarily be the answers for her.
I didn’t know that after my eight girls, a tiny son would need a place to be and that he would come to our family. I didn’t know there would be room for one more.
But I learned some things.
I learned that families can expand in a way I never before imagined. They’re convoluted growing things. Birth mothers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins became an extension of our family. I learned to love them. They opened my mind to circumstances that I’ve never had to experience, and I began to understand them and forgive them…even if some of my children can’t yet.
I learned that love is ever expansive, that human souls are most valuable, and that in the hardest days there is something that brings joy. Things like trust glimpsed in the eyes of a child, a quick or lingering hug, seeing with new vision as perspective is shared, and the gift of watching hope and confidence grow.
I learned that I can get through the hardest of days and still have my head above water. I learned that I can also forgive myself…even if some of my children can’t yet.
Once I approached my twin daughters who were graduating and about to leave for college. I wanted them to know how sorry I felt that their reality was adjusted again and again through high school, with a new sibling every year. I apologized for robbing them of normal. They looked at me with bright eyes and told me they wouldn’t have wanted to change anything. They said the experiences we had made us a strong family and that they loved everyone. They were so grateful for the education that challenges brought. They told me how much they love adoption, enough to want to adopt some day themselves. I cried.
What I thought was destruction and chaos for my family turned into building blocks. Among the incredibly rotten days,something else was happening too. We were passing from one understanding to another, something deeper and richer. I’ve thought of it like a pendulum, the further it swings into hard times, momentum swings it back that much further into joy. It turns out my husband was right. We have the most amazing family in the world.
Mother + Artist
I am the mother of nine children, a listener, thinker, and dreamer. What I see and experience impacts my creative pursuits. My children inspire me, as well as my deep roots and connections to the past. I am the organizer in my home, the bill-payer, the making-sure-chores-get-done-person, encourager of flute practice, the chauffeur, creator of beautiful spaces, and emotional support person. The day-to-day activities in my home influence me to record them through photography, painting, and writing, or I wouldn’t believe any of it was real.