I’ve written about a number of adoption stories lately, many of them happy, heart-warming tales. But not every adoption story is so good. Adoption inherently involves some form of brokenness, so no matter what there’s already some heartache involved. But in some cases even that measure of hope that comes to a broken story is lost.
These stories suck. But I want to be honest that they happen. That’s pretty obvious after that whole putting a kid on a plane to Russia debacle, but sometimes we need less sensational and more real stories. I don’t want to imply that these cases are completely devoid of hope—I’m kind of an annoying idealist that way and believe hope can eventually come to the darkest situation. But in the midst of that darkness it can be pretty impossible to see the hope. I can only pray it’s there.
The story, in a nutshell, is that they discovered the 5-year-old boy they were trying to adopt had been abusing their toddler-aged daughter. A history and pattern of abuse emerged, something that’s sadly not uncommon for institutionalized children. They had to make the painful decision to relinquish the child and ultimately chose to return to the United States.
We were talking with some fellow adoptive parents the other night about the issue of embracing our children’s culture of origin. One mom made the comment that having a child adopted from Ethiopia means that her entire family is now Scottish and Ethiopian. There is no distinction—the Ethiopian child is now Scottish and the Scottish parents/children are now Ethiopian.
Saying it doesn’t make it so, but it’s a helpful attitude to have. Ethiopian culture isn’t some add on we endure to humor a child. And it’s not simply that child’s culture to the exclusion of the rest of the family. The entire family needs to embrace that culture. Likewise the adopted child needs to embrace the family’s culture. We blend, mix and share.
This is the kind of cultural blending that happens when people get married or when step families are formed—of course some families require more mixing that others. It’s natural that we embrace the culture and background of our loved ones.
I’m not sure why but in adoption there’s a temptation to leave that culture one step removed. We definitely want to embrace it, but we think of it as the child’s culture and not our own. We’ve mistakenly done this to some extent with Milo, thinking that we’ll dive into Ethiopian culture classes when he’s older and can appreciate it. But the rest of the family should learn that stuff too and there’s no need to wait for Milo. Heck, we could have been doing that before he came home.
Not that we haven’t been embracing Ethiopian culture. We were already doing a lot, but this brings it one step closer. For me, I think it’s about internalizing it. I always seem to be one step slower on this stuff, but I’m getting there. I even started an Ethiopia page to begin collecting the helpful resources I’m finding (most of which my wife has found; See? One step behind).
What I love about this approach to blending cultures in a family is that it’s not the child’s responsibility—it’s the family’s responsibility. So when a child is struggling with identity issues and wants nothing to do with their culture of origin (which is pretty common for internationally adopted children) that doesn’t mean it disappears from the family entirely. The stubborn kid doesn’t want to go to a cultural event? That’s fine. But I’m going because I enjoy it. It’s my culture, too.
I actually woke up to Milo storming into our bedroom at 5:45. We graduated Milo to a real bed last night and are now very appreciative of the cage-like qualities of a crib.
But after that I saw the incredible Pioneer Press feature on my book, Addition by Adoption: Kids, Causes & 140 Characters, complete with a little photo gallery and lots of details about my life as a twittering dad. I love that they mentioned my blogging history going back to 1998—and my comment that it was really bad back then (it was). I’m glad they included our latest addition at the very end. And I can’t quite pick a favorite picture—our kitchen dance party with Lexi in her ballerina, the fact that Milo in sporting his Red Wings shirt, or the five of us—dogs included—piled around the laptop (a rare moment indeed). But my favorite part about the story is that I didn’t say anything stupid to the reporter.
If you’re checking out my site for the first time, thanks for stopping by:
And a bigtime thanks to everyone who makes this stuff happen. I should specifically mention TriLion Studios and Ronald Cox, who volunteered to do the book’s cover and layout respectively, and the Pioneer Press for doing such a great story.
I dropped my cryptic hints last week and today I can give a little more info: We’re adopting again! Head-spinning changes, indeed.
She’s an 11-year-old girl going into 6th grade and she’ll be joining our family this summer.
Due to the sensitive nature of this whole process, we won’t be sharing a lot of details. But she’s got a beautiful smile and likes to ice skate and draw.
We’re obviously pretty stoked. We’d been exploring a second adoption but we had no idea it would happen this quickly. It’s kind of throwing our entire summer into a tailspin, but that’s OK. It’s a good tailspin.
And happy birthday to me! Couldn’t ask for better birthday news.
Sometimes as the parent of an adopted child you get a lot of comments that are spoken innocently but come from a place of ignorance. Education is part of our job, but sometimes it gets a little frustrating.
Lucky? Lucky. Lucky to have been born on a continent terrorized by war, corruption and greed? Lucky to have been born in a country where 25,000 women and girls die each year due to pregnancy-related complications? Lucky to have been born in a country where more than half the population has ZERO access to basic medical care? Lucky to have been born in a region reliant upon rainfall and devastated by drought?
And on it goes.
The rescue and lucky mentality people have with orphans so easily overlooks the very real pain and trauma inherent in it all. It engenders a need for gratefulness and payback among the children that’s just unhealthy. It turns a blind eye to the reality of their situation and turns adoptive parents into superheros that we’re definitely not.
Reading adoption blogs is always interesting because you usually have piece together the story. The format of a blog doesn’t give you someone’s life story right away and unless they have a handy about page that lays it out for you, you generally have to read a ton of blog posts to piece their life together. Even then it can still be difficult. It’s kind of a challenge. A creepy, stalker-like challenge.
Anyway, I’ve been reading some blogs from fellow Ethiopian adoptive parents and it’s been interesting trying to piece the stories together. One especially interesting story comes from the Knutzen family in Washington. They have five children, two older children who have graduated high school and three children adopted from Ethiopia who seem to be around 14 years old.
Earlier this year half of the family traveled back to Ethiopia to be in a wedding and connect with birth family. The father, oldest daughter and two of the adopted children went on the trip.
The girl, Meron, was a junior bridesmaid in the wedding of a family who had cared for her for the first five years of her life (like I said, sometimes the story is hard to figure out). From the pictures it looks like an incredible moment to be a part of.
The boy, Joseph Abel, was able to meet his birth family and hear about his birth parents (“Joseph also was impressed to learn his birth father was a professional soccer and volleyball player!”). His grandmother thanked God for Joseph’s visit because she doesn’t think she’ll live much longer. Joseph was also able to get a photo album of some of his baby pictures and was able to determine his actual birthday from a banner in one of the photos. I can’t imagine what a treasure that would be.
I don’t know this family at all, but it’s cool to read about their story and the opportunity for these kids to travel back to their homeland. These children were adopted when they were older and have a greater connection to Ethiopia with families, memories and even language, but traveling back to Ethiopia is something we’ve always wanted to do with Milo. I hope someday when he’s old enough and prepared for it we can do that. Maybe even more than once.
Another cool adoption story involves a boy adopted from Ethiopia who wanted to raise money for his homeland (there’s no public blogpost on this one, so I’ll leave off the names—though the identity will be obvious to the people who know). He organized a charity run, dubbed “Run Fast for Ethiopia,” and raised at least $170 for the Hossana region in Southern Ethiopia. The money will go to buy cows, chickens and plant a vegetable garden as part of the fundraiser for the Summer Mehaber, an annual picnic celebrating Ethiopian culture here in the Twin Cities.
I didn’t hear about the event until the day after, but I so would have been there.
The boy’s sister also did a fundraiser of her own, hosting a garden tea party for the ladies.
Tague and Lisa Harding of Minnesota adopted two boys from Uganda a year and a half ago. The family was featured in a CBN story on the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit VI event held in Minneapolis last month.
Lisa expressed a beautiful sentiment about the common misconception of ‘rescue’:
“People have said, ‘Oh, aren’t they lucky, you rescued them from whatever. And I think, Are you kidding? I’m the lucky one. I get to be their mom. And I get to be daily rescued from my selfishness, and my impatience, and things that are just as disease-ridden in my soul.”
That’s an incredible attitude. Some days I think I’m drowning in my impatience.
Apparently this CBN story is drawing more attention because of comments Pat Robertson made after the story. I don’t quite understand why anybody still listens to that guy.
Matthew and Amanda Johnson from Minnesota have two children, both adopted from Ethiopia: Samrawit, 7, and Teshome, 5. Amanda traveled to Ethiopia with her parents last year to bring Samrawit home. Amanda’s parents have talked about “finishing well” for a few years now, and had been dreaming about what that could be. They had been empty-nesters for a few years and loved it.
But that all changed.
While in Ethiopia they met two brothers: Berhane, 13, and Tsegaye, 11. And they decided to adopt them. As Amanda writes:
“And so the last few days of the trip involved a lot of soul-searching on the part of my parents. They knew they couldn’t go into this for the wrong reasons. “Saving a child” was simply not good enough. They knew it meant a total life style change, almost starting over. They knew it would be hard. These kids have a lot of grief and trauma. The kind of stuff you cannot just love away. … Then, as it goes, they started to get excited, thinking about all the new things they would get to experience with the boys. They started to see the boys in a different way, looking at each of them for their strengths, their potential.
“They started the paperwork on the plane home. Last week they finished their home study. This week they start their dossier. With any luck the boys should be home before summer.”
Amanda’s dad is in Ethiopia right now to bring these boys home. Amanda’s parents actually had a chance to meet with the boys last year and ask them if they wanted to be adopted. I can’t imagine making a decision that quickly or being able to jump through the appropriate hoops while in the country. That’s some impressive commitment on the part of these parents, the social workers and agency.
I also can’t help but think how incredible this is for the family. Samrawit and Teshone will have two Ethiopian uncles. Berhane and Tsegaye will have a niece and nephew from their country—and Samrawit was at the same care center. Amazing.
It’s definitely not the kind of thing every grandparent could do.
But as Amanda wrote, “I cannot think of a better way to finish.”
A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.