Driven to the End

On our third morning in Miloli’i, we woke late and enjoyed a slow morning of packing and cleaning the rental house. We had until 11:00AM for check out and were in no hurry to get anywhere fast. We had a few things on our want-to-do list, so if they happened, well GREAT! If not, life would continue. We were clearly adopting the island attitude.

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Emma, Allen and me at Ka Lae (South Point), Hawaii

We set out on Highway 11 toward the south end of Hawaii for a spot referred to as Ka Lae (South Point). I was surprised that we were able to drive right up to the parking
area with ease; I’d expected a hike over rough terrain. We watched fishermen brave the crushing waves with their heavy, large poles and noticed a few whales offshore before we headed out of the parking lot. Taking a right, we made our way to Green Sand Beach, just a short drive from Ka Lae.

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Ka Lae (South Point), Hawaii

I assumed that the “walk” to Green Sand

would be similar to what we’d just experienced at Ka Lae, so we grabbed my camera and a bottle of water each and set out in the direction we noticed most of the visitors walking. As we reached the first red dirt mound summit, we sighed seeing several more we’d need to traverse, but pushed on. Occasionally, a jeep or other off-road vehicle came bouncing past us carrying tourists and one or two stopped to ask if we’d like a ride. We graciously replied no and kept to our original plan. For 30 more minutes.

Then came Dave. Dave put his little truck in park and got out. He had 3 cold bottles of water in his hands and asked if we’d like a ride. We looked at our empty bottles and back at his sweating, fresh bottles of liquid refreshment and I asked, “How much?”

“Ten dollars each,” he said with determination. I thought about how much cash I had in my wallet back in the rental car and replied that I wasn’t sure what I had (because I really didn’t). He said not to worry, he’d accept whatever amount I could pay him and opened the door for me.

Green Sand Beach Hawaii

As we bounced along in Dave’s truck, Emma leaned to me and commented that whatever I’d read on the internet was not accurate. This would not have been an easy hike. We were all taking a liking to Dave and his little truck, obviously. Dave’s other two passengers had just arrived on the island that morning and were confused by what they were seeing offshore. “What IS that out there blowing water?” Allen, Emma and I rolled our eyes at one another and explained they were migrating humpback whales. The passengers seemed shocked, so Dave offered to take them out on his boat the following day. Of course Dave had a boat for whale watching. After riding twice with Dave (out to Green Sand and back) in his little truck that broke down several times, I couldn’t see myself on a boat with him, but I wished the passengers a good time with him at the end of our journey.

Green Sand Beach Hawaii

Reaching Green Sand, Dave led us down the natural rock stairway and said we would head back when we were all ready as a group. The climb down into the cinder cone, which was once an extension of Mauna Loa, wasn’t as difficult as I’d read and we marveled over the rich green colors in the sand. Green Sand Beach gets its color from olivine, a silicate with magnesium and iron. It was beautiful. Simply beautiful and very much worth the $30 I fished out of my wallet back at the rental car for Dave.

Reaching Highway 11, we took a right toward Volcano National Park where we’d be staying for the next 4 days at KMC (Kilauea Military Camp). We stopped at Punalu’u Bake Shop for delicious deli sandwiches while we waited for a rain storm to pass and bought a loaf of bread and cinnamon rolls for breakfast the next day.

Before leaving the little town of Punalu’u, we found the famous black sand beach and spent about an hour in search of the sea turtles. Several buses of tourists were in the parking lot, so we steered clear of the crowds and took advantage of the tidepooling opportunities. It was a favorite activity in Alaska and second nature to us water loving people. As we searched for sea creatures, Emma spotted a sea turtle struggling against a wave near the rocks, but we didn’t find any on the beach.

Back on Highway 11, we headed East to KMC and the National Park. Our entrance was free, with our military IDs, and we found the KMC office to check into our cabin. Entering the military building felt so familiar. Regardless of where we’ve stayed across this country, CONUS and OCONUS (continuous united states and out of continuous united states for the non-military folks), military lodging has a similar theme. Military resorts, like Hale Koa and Shades of Green, are definitely an upscale version and not included in this description, but most logding is simple. Simple, thin carpet, very firm couches, standard coffee tables, firm chairs, basic items. They’re also accompanied with an extremely basic and fair price.

Our 1 bedroom cabin was literally steps away from the active volcano, Kilauea. Unfortunately, the rain had brought fog and we were unable to see the lava show that night. It was nice and chilly, so we stopped in at the store and

KMC cabin evening smore's

KMC cabin evening smore’s

purchased wood and smore’s ingredients before retiring to our cabin for the evening. It had been a memorable and adventurous day. It had also been the first day we had not heard from Jessi.

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Sinking heart

Our second day in Miloli’i began with a slight wind and warm sun. Taking advantage of sleeping children, I set up my mobile office on the beach house deck overlooking the ocean with hopes of seeing a whale or two. Immediately, my phone rang. It was Jessi’s birth grandmother, someone she was now referring to as “Tutu,” letting me know the plans for the day.

“Her dad and sister are coming to get her to show where he works and lives and other things like that. OK? So, they’re on their way.” Jess had just appeared with her bedhead and pjs and I passed the message. She ran to get dressed and reappeared asking if it was appropriate to wear a ruffled skirt with a ruffled shirt. Since when did she care about her appearance? Later, I found the pile of clothes that she had tried on. It was as though she was a teenager going on her first date.

She hopped into their vehicle with an air of royalty and expectation of their submission and off they went. Whether or not I’d see her again that day weighed on my mind. Would she want to come back to our house for the security concerns she expressed the evening before?makalawena beach

Allen, Emma and I gathered our things and headed out for a day of discovery. My first objective was to put the top down on the convertible Camaro. The universe, however, decided it was not to be. We discovered the reason we couldn’t enjoy this tropical island riding in open air – a broken top storage canvas bar. In the newer vehicles, a canvas piece must be pulled out and set into place before the car will allow it’s top to fold into the compartment. Apparently, these newer vehicles are quite smart and able to ignore mere human attempts to fool it’s sensors. Frustrated, I decided to drive north toward the airport and rental car center for assistance.

“Funny thing about our top, ” I tell the rental agent.

“Funny thing indeed,” the rental agent snorts. He handed me an incident report form and aranged a second convertible Camaro. It was white, not red, and smelled of smoke. Hoping to dispel the nasty air, I put the top down and we headed back onto the highway going north. My backseat passenger was unapproving of this decision and voiced her thought bubbles. You know, those thoughts you really should keep to yourself, especially when your mom is looking for peace, relaxation and the tropical breeze blowing past her ears to drown out all sound?

About 2 miles north of the airport, I turned left onto a dirt road. I’d read about this “secret” beach on several blogs and knew the road might give us a challenege. Challenge would be an understatement.

We began our journey to Makalawena Beach with the other caravaning rental sports cars all without high clearance. The road traversed an old lava field and as we spent the next 20-25 minutes bumping along slowly over large stones and boulders, my backseat passenger becoming more vocal. Unfortunately, there was no high speed breeze to drown out her complaints.makalawena beach

Hawaii may be the only state in the US where rental cars are expected to be taken off road. It was certainly the first time I’d seen so many tourists willing to add injury to their rental vehicle in rapid succession. Through a lava field no less. About 3/4 of the way, several of my caravaning hoaloha turned around, possibly fearing their contract stipulations where extra insurance had been declined.

We, however, pressed on to discover a filled parking lot of locals and tourists alike. Two of us gathered our things as one of us was being stubborn and refusing to exit the car. I silently threatened to sacrifice her when I found the ancient temple later in the week. I’ll spare you the rest of the ohana drama, but will tell you this drive was worth the bumps, tight fists and occasional gasps as the bottom of the car ground against a boulder.

I’d read the beach at the end of the road was very nice, but I’d also read to follow the sand to the right, past the red barn with goats (no goats the day we visited) and over the lava field to one of the most gorgeous white sand beaches you’d ever see. At least that’s what was promised. We brought more than enough water this time, having learned how arrid the environment is on the Big Island and set off through the lava field. It ended abruptly. Shade trees surrounded by fine white sand greeted us before revealing Makalawena’s beauty. The surf was too vicious to snorkel, but Allen and I were treated to a show of breaching whales offshore.hawaii rainbow

The hike back to our car, encouraged by a storm moving in, was long and hot. Tempers were high and moods unsavory. I tried to imagine spending the next week in this small car with my disagreeable backseat passenger, who would be sharing space with large suitcases when I wanted the top down. Keeping this vision in my head after jostling and bumping my way back to the higway and I as turned to head south, I made the executive decision to make a stop at the rental car center. Explaining they might just save a teenager’s life, I asked for a THIRD rental car. The agent laughed and found an SUV that she could rent us for the same price. All was good again for our ohana of 3 and we drove south back to Miloli’i in the rain for the evening.

We received a phone call from Jess around 8:00PM as we drove into our subdivision telling us she was staying with her new family for the night. I asked about her previous concerns about their house and she informed me she was fine. She also shared their activities of the day, which consisted of many people buying her clothes, food and whatever she wanted.

My heart sank…… Perhaps the amount of time I’d spent preparing her for this journey was playing a role and she knew enough about them ahead of time to make this decision to attach to them so quickly. Perhaps they were all nice people who were doing everything they could to help her feel comfortable and attach to them. Perhaps it was a day of her being in control of many adults and watching their height achieved when she said jump that made her decision easier, but it made my stomach turn. There would be no perfect solution to this situation. She was there to make a connection and I was there to supervise from a distance.

And wait for the fallout.

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Night marching like the natives

After spending time with Jess as she met her paternal birth family, Allen, Emma and I headed to our beach house rental in a little subdivison in Miloli’i, the last fishing village in Hawaii. The wind was strong that afternoon and it was obvious we wouldn’t be getting in the water, so we headed out to find Honomalino Bay. Directions were easy to find on the internet and I’d made myself familiar with the area online before arriving.

The bay is at the end of the road past the subdivison and through an older residential section. We had rented a red convertible Camaro, so we drove along the paved, narrow path with top down and Imagine Dragons blaring. I’m surprised we weren’t jumped.

Miloli’i isn’t frequented by tourists often, so the appearance of a couple of haoles (describes a white person; can be an insult or just a fact) was obvious. The haoles found the little yellow church at the end of the road across from the pavilion; both landmarks given as reference on various sites and books. Finding the start of the trail to the bay was tricky initially, because it passes along several private properties. As we began our walk, a group of locals were coming toward us. We smiled and greeted them, but only received cold stares. Had they heard our haole music as we pulled up? Were they unfriendly to us visitors, because this was their spot? I suppose I would respond similarily if I had a gorgeous beach in my backyard, too.

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We had been warned to bring water, but we didn’t believe the precaution. It was listed as a 20 minute walk. Surely, we’d be fine with one bottle of liquid refreshment. The arid environment taught us otherwise and we consumed the single serving rapidly as we climbed over trees and stumps paying careful attention to avoiding the numerous maraes. Maraes, or consecrated spots, were built as a ritual during travel to assure safe passage in the form of rock piles that were a deity offering or representations personified to remember their loved ones. Hawaiians continue to make offerings as they pass by and we saw a marae that not only was built of stones, but had tennis balls on top.

Finding Honomalino Bay was like finding a memory for us. It’s dark black sand reminded us of Kodiak and as well all removed our shoes and buried our toes, Emma commented it was like going home. The bay was deserted and the setting sun became a beautiful display of Mother Nature. We sat on the rocks and listened as the waves forced water through the inner cravices. We marveled as the water energy was forced into rock openings, resembling volcanoes. It was too stunning to leave and we soon found ourselves heading back to our car on a dark path. As my Hawaiian friend described it, we “night marched like the natives.”20130323-083120.jpg

I could say it was peaceful and serene, but in fact I became a bit neurotic. My big city instincts kicked in and I was convinced someone in our party would be harmed. It was the perfect picking grounds for a criminal. Hushing the children at one point, I was told I needed to relax.

We found our way back to our car, which had not touched by anyone and we night marched ourselves back to our rental. While we didn’t feel welcomed that evening in Miloli’i, we were respected. For that, I say mahalo to the people of Miloli’i.

Honomalino Bay Hawaii Honomalino Bay Hawaii

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Picking through the pieces

Arriving in Hawaii felt familiar for 3 of us. The 4th didn’t remember her first visits to the islands and certainly didn’t recall the biological family members she’d be meeting in a few days. To help with the adjustment from the daily routine to the big reveal for this trip, a weekend on Oahu was fitting. Sunshine on the skin, coral and sea creatures to be discovered and sand between the toes helped with the transition.

West of Home South of Sanity

Jessi was going to spend time with her birth father and his family and her grandmother, a woman who asked to be called “Tutu”, eagerly awaited at a local Denny’s restaurant soon after we landed in Kona. We knew what she looked like from her online videos and CDs; she’s a famous Hawaiian performer. She tried to hug Jess immediately and I watched as my RADling’s entire body stiffened. On the flight from Honolulu, Jess had nervously twitched in between attempts to follow my deep breathing instructions. She wasn’t sure what to expect.

As we all ate a mid-day meal together, my teens and I marveled at the genetic similarities. Not only in the physical features, but in the mental processing and behaviors. We had proof, sitting across the table from us, that your genes play a significant role in your life, regardless of how and where you are raised. However, this isn’t to say you can’t find strategies to manage the traits you deem not positive.

Jess was slowly introduced to the rest of her paternal birth family during a small, outdoor wedding reception at a local park after our meal. As people joined the group, we played little ID games trying to determine who was her father, her sisters, etc. At times, she was in her own world and didn’t seem to care why anyone was there. She was being greeted by all of these strangers who would place authentic leis on her neck before trying to hug her. They all wanted to meet her and ask questions about her life. She was the center of attention. Not a good place for a RADling to be for long.

Her body language changed over the next hour from the girl we have worked so hard to help for the past 8 years to the girl we like to avoid. She was no longer using social cues to manage her behavior, but was feeding off the power she was receiving. If someone approached and said, “Aloha!”, she put her nose in the air and asked them if they knew she’d been to Disney World. She wasn’t interested in learning their names or anything about them, she only wanted to talk about herself and her experiences.

There is no manual for how to reconnect your RADling to their birth family. There certainly isn’t a manual for how to explain your RADling to their birth family. So, I did what I needed to in order to stay sane. I put Jess in their capable hands and my teens and I headed to our beach house rental, which was a short 4 minute drive to where Jess would be for the evening. Parenting her in that situation would have been futile and I wasn’t up to the task, whatever that may have entailed.

On the way to our rental, we drove past the family’s beach house. The property is held in legal limbo and the family is unable to do anything to the structure except for minor repairs. I knew when Jess laid eyes on this house, I’d get a phone call asking to be with us. Around 8PM, that phone call came. We drove over to pick her up and I asked why she wanted to be with us for the night. She said it wasn’t what she was expecting and that someone staying in the house smoked and it made her uncomfortable. When we told her about the cemetery behind the house and the outhouse usage, she declared she would never stay there and sighed relief when she walked into our rental. She had paid attention to her feelings and acted accordingly to her internal safety levels – whatever attention she had received that day from these strangers couldn’t make her risk her security. As I sent her to bed, I was satisfied that our hard work for 8 years had made a difference in this little girl’s life. I had hope that as a teenager she might not put herself in unsavory predicaments in pursuit of attention. I had hope that we had turned a corner in this RADling’s life.

West of Home South of Sanity

I was wrong………

to be continued

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Yesterday, I hesitated. Today, I booked the tickets.

When the idea comes to you, you search for the avenues of possibility. You also waste time trying to convince yourself of why you SHOULDN’T take action on your idea.

We might need the money for an emergency, for a project, for…… I’d need to rearrange schedules first. What if a client gets upset?……. How will I find care for the boys while I’m away? What about Michael’s calendar?…… What if….. What if…. What if…….

My idea centers around Jess and reconnecting her with her paternal birth family in Hawaii. She’s at an age where she asks questions and wants real answers given. She’s at an age where her classmates are making fun of her Hawaiian appearance and where she wants to change her looks to fit in more. She’s at an age where her heritage should be tangible and experienced up close. She’s at an age where that experience will be remembered.

Yesterday, I hesitated with following through on this idea. I allowed the gremlins to cloud what our family knows Jess needs right now in her life. Yesterday, I hesitated with purchasing tickets to fly myself and my oldest 2 children and Jess to Hawaii to visit with her birth family and immerse her in all things tropical.

Today, as I watched the horror of the Connecticut school shootings, I booked the tickets. Screw the mind gremlins. Life is too short.

I am taking my children to Hawaii to help Jess discover who she truly is and where she came from. No more hesitation.

ALOHA!

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skin color does matter

age 9

This week I witnessed Jess sunbathing after an hour of swimming. To her credit, she applied SPF 50 sunscreen first. She’s seen the latest news reports on the dangers of skin cancer and my hula girl is adamant, “It can kill you and I don’t want anyone in my family to die!”

Although, with the way she sprays the sunscreen in hers and the boys’ faces, someone may die from inhalation……

I asked (with a slight “maybe you’re not really doing what I think you’re doing”), “Jess, are you trying to nap out here? If so, I’d like you to go inside.”

“No, I’m not napping! I’m SUNTANNING!” she blurts.

Pause. “Why?”

Again, blurting, because I must be the only clueless mom on the block, “So I can get tan!”

Pause. “Honey, you’re Hawaiian. You’re already tan. Please at least go sit in the shade for a while.”

Our first Texas summer, her almost-white skin bronzed quickly and became the deepest, golden brown. She was confused. “Why is my skin darker?” Living in the Last Frontier all of her life hadn’t provided opportunities like this melanin reaction. She’d do the arm comparison, where you hold up your arms next to one another to see who is darker, to EVERYONE. Constantly. As if a day inside might make her skin return to it’s Alaska color. No luck.

This child had been with us for 4 years at that point and never once felt different because of her skin color. Now, when we out, my hula girl stuck out more than her CP, microcephalic brother. Feelings she’d never experienced bubbled to the surface. To our credit as a family, she was still the little sister to Allen and Emma and the big sister to the twins. Solid in the middle. Solid in who she is as an individual. We discussed her feelings, helped her process the face she was seeing in the mirror each day and in typical Jess form, she shrugged her shoulders, made a little whatever expression and moved on.

I’ve read other blogs and articles on discussing race with your children, especially informative ones by Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan where she says

“Love that overlooks is belittling. Love that acknowledges is accepting.”
Kristen also says, based on her research, that the risk of a child being excluded from their peers based on race is high. Jess has definitely had experiences of being left out for her race, but also for being adopted. For that matter, we’ve all had those experiences as the parents and siblings. You learn to react with purpose to the shocked classmates’ mom’s faces or the playmates’ blatant “how can you be HER mommy? You’re white!” comments.
But Jess sees her younger brothers being excluded as well. Excluded for their developmental delays, their hearing loss, their physical disabilities. Kristen, at Rage Against the Minivan, says race is “as impactful as gender, physical differences, and even cognitive ability.”
Great…. Maybe we should just stay home.
Or maybe we follow Jessi’s lead, who has no doubt been following Matt’s lead. Matt believes the world has been made for him. Sometimes only him. He enters a room, declares his arrival with a giant, “Hey Friends!” and immediately scours for the most entertaining item at breakneck speed. He easily ignores the looks and stares at his cochlear implants. I think in a funny jokes-on-you way, he believes all of those stares are because he’s so awesome. “Why wouldn’t someone want to look at me?”
I also think Jess can use her brothers to her advantage. “Yeah, well, if you have a problem with my skin color, you should my brothers and their differences.” No, I can’t imagine she’d actually say that, but I can see her shrugging those shoulders and moving on in a way that’s the epitome of Jess, “”Fine with me. You aren’t very nice anyway.”
age 3 in Hawaii
We don’t talk about race every day, but we aren’t blind to Jessi’s skin color. She’s darker. Period. And she wants to be even darker. Jess has decided this is the year she will again win the arm comparison competition. (Admittedly, it IS done frequently in our home because both my husband and oldest son are dark complected and my son will compete with you for ANYTHING. Just his nature and all in fun.)
She WANTS to be the darkest family member. She WANTS her skin color to set her apart. She’s PROUD of her skin color, of her heritage and of her family. She is nani and she’s our determined hula girl.
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