Just over a year ago when we were finally receiving a referral for our baby girl, my husband and I spent a few bewildered days feeling overwhelmingly that someone else was supposed to come home with her and trying to sort through what God would have us do next. There were no siblings (our hope) under the 3-year-old age limit we had requested, none even in the queue who’s paperwork was near completion. After much prayer, we asked our agency if they would consider allowing us to adopt an unrelated child along with baby T. They said yes, but that likely we wouldn’t be permitted to accept an additional child under the age of five. That left us in a conundrum after all our careful thinking and form-filling-out and soul searching.
I remember one evening in the company of close friends, sharing our thoughts, seeking their prayer on our behalf, and looking at photos for more images of our little girl, baby T. While looking at the album of some recently traveling families, I came across this photo of a little boy:
And as I continued through the album, I was arrested by his joyful, mischievous face several times.
It’s so hard to tell, but I thought, “this little boy looks like he could be about three years old…” and I shared his photos with my husband and told him I was having a hard time getting this one out of my head and that I thought we should ask about his status. He agreed immediately, and so we called the agency back the next day. Our contact there immediately said she thought she knew who this child was and put us on hold to fetch his file. When she returned, she said, “Yes, he is available for adoption, and he has an older brother. Would you like to see their information?” I will never forget hearing her words, and I can imagine it in slow motion as I met my husband’s eyes and in unison we both emphatically said “Yes! We’d love to see their information.” It was like someone else was talking. Because we knew at that moment that we were opening our hearts to not a second child, but a second and third and that these children were both boys, and outside of our requested age range. Not exactly what you expect to happen as you sit for months and months and months and wait for this day to come.
Very shortly we were sitting together at the computer looking at this photo:
…and falling in love with our boys!
We fought it, in the most reasoned and logical way we could. I had moments where I could envision becoming an instant family of five, followed immediately by crushing doubts that it was possible. We considered how unreasonable it sounded to adopt three at once, but I’m telling you, when we imagined these boys with our baby girl, the family just made perfect sense in a bizarre, unexplainable way. It felt right, it felt complete, it felt purposeful, and we both had a part of us that was ready to go to Ethiopia RIGHT NOW and bring them home.
I remember my husband waking up in the middle of the night weeping for our boys’ mother (who is still alive, and who we met in May in Ethiopia) and saying, “She had to give up her boys!” and feeling this incredible sorrow over all of their losses. It’s different with older kids who have had time to develop relationships. We wept together. It’s so hard in our country and culture to imagine making such an impossible choice for the well-being of your children, but in Ethiopia (and many other places of course) it happens far more often than it should.
There were lots of thoughts like that that we found so difficult to process. The decision only spanned three significant days. Sleepless nights, an out-of-body existence during waking hours. Just a completely consuming decision-making process. We prayed so much, and in the end I can honestly say I heard God’s voice more clearly than I have at any other moment in my life: “Will you go on this adventure for Me?” Because in reality, these children are His, and we are merely a part of their journey in life. There was no question what the answer would be when it was so clear what the question was and who it was coming from. My husband and I were completely on the same page in abandoning our expectations and going with God’s new direction. What an incredible rush!
So fast forward to today, approaching six months of having our three kids home. A few weeks ago we celebrated Melkam’s fifth birthday, close on the heels of his big brother’s seventh. Crazy, crazy life.
Through our decision, this little boy who had thus far in his life been a youngest child, became a middle child. Of all our crew, I believe it has been most difficult for him. In particular, the gentle but traumatic prying apart of two brothers…the elder having taken on a parenting role during their year in orphanage care, while his younger sibling settled into dependence on him. Of course, Alex and Melkam remain very close…they sleep in the same bedroom, play together, share their toys, and both help a great deal with their little sister. But for school, they had to begin the journey of separate lives. It was an important cut, but painful nonetheless.
For the elder, this liberation from such a heavy responsibility, and the opportunity to be and act his age and pursue HIS stuff, has been visibly freeing. Not one teacher or assistant who has worked with him at his school has failed to tell me that he is the most eager learner they have ever had the pleasure of working with.
For young Melkam, it has represented yet another loss. He has persevered bravely, but it has been stressful for him. More new life filled with the unknown, and led by adults he is just not yet sure he trusts. Melkam expects to be disappointed again. It’s clear in how he is afraid to trust in little things. He’s built a tough little shell to protect his soft heart. Sometimes it just cracks me in two, watching him struggle with himself and his fears.
I recently saw him blossom after about six days of particular focus and attention on him. It started with a successful visit to the dentist where he conquered his fears in a big way. He went from screaming and wailing at the top of his lungs (forcing us to leave) when we attempted this in June, to complying amicably for the entire dentist visit in October. I celebrated him big time and he was very proud of himself. The next day I had my nanny come watch Ellie for a few hours so Melkam and I could spend some solo time together. We went to the library and then to an art class. The next day was his birthday complete with a party and chocolate cake and Melkam as the center of attention. By the time school rolled around on Monday morning this kid was like a new person with a new sense of self.
I’m so humbled and honored to be tasked with investing in this little boy. With taking steps every day to show consistency both in my love and availability and in my expectations of him. I often fail spectacularly, but there’s still plenty of effective parenting going on, hopefully balancing out the useless stuff and the backpedaling. We continue to find ways to reach him, to draw him in close and draw him out of his tendency to retreat. Some days are better than others, but when I step back for a broader perspective I’m just amazed with his progress and I have huge hopes that he will continue to learn to trust and let go, and to find his joy. I know he has a lot of it in him!