Two years ago today Diva and Smiles stepped off of an airplane and into our lives. They left behind everything they ever knew to enter a world that was completely unfamiliar. I still can’t believe how brave they are!
We knew we would be in for a tough transition. Back then, we often dreamed about how easy things would be 2 years in the future, when we didn’t have a newborn and all our kids could speak English- and now here we are. I wouldn’t say things are easy, but they are most definitely without a doubt easier than they were back then!
To celebrate adoption day, the kids brought an adoption book (I Wished For You– if you know someone who is adopting, give them this book as a present) and treats to school. We knew this might spur some questions from their classmates, so we’ve spent the last few weeks role playing with them and telling them it’s okay to say “I don’t want to talk about that” if something uncomfortable comes up. They both were able to talk and celebrate with their classes! We had activities tonight so our family celebration was pretty low key. I actually got them presents this year, but I hid them several weeks ago and now I can’t find one of them, so we will have another adoption day celebration when it reappears! We did sugar them up, looked through their adoption books (I made them, similar to a baby book), and talked a lot about how far they’ve come.
And how far they’ve come! Here’s a shake down of where they’re at these days:
Smiles: Such a jokester! He uses humor to diffuse situations, and if you laugh at his jokes you’ll be his friend forever.
Diva: This girl has the emotional maturity of an 85 year old wrapped up in her cute little 6-year-old body. I’ve seriously never met another small person who is as compassionate, empathetic, and helpful as she is. She is constantly thinking of other people and will sacrifice her own desires to make someone else’s life better.
Smiles: His love for sports continues. We wrapped up basketball season a few weeks ago and now have baseball practice twice a week. He’s pretty dedicated; most day he does conditioning on his own at home and sometimes even turns down treats in an effort to be healthy. He loves pitching and he’s pretty good!
Diva: She did Tball last year, but apparently all the athletic genes in their biological family went to Smiles (I’m sort of a feminist and I really hate this). She’s just not interested. She’s not currently in any activities except Awana at the church, but we are looking into gymnastics, piano lessons, or art lessons. I just can’t get very motivated to do anything because I really value down time at home.
Smiles: Sports and friends. We moved away from some great neighbors, but we keep in touch and see them regularly. He’s just recently made new neighborhood friends, but tonight he called Wiggles an a**hole. He had zero idea that was a bad word and told me he learned it from those friends, so now I’m questioning this friendship! Friends are really important to him and he walks with a swagger when he feels loved. He likes playing basketball or practicing hitting out front. He wants to go fishing more often, likes playing Minecraft and Temple Run on the iPad, and loves to put things like Legos together.
Diva: Art and fashion. She wants to be an art teacher when she grows up, except for the days she wants to be a fashion designer. She’s always drawing; I can keep her entertained for hours with a notebook and a pencil. She mostly draws princesses and pretty dresses. She likes watching the YouTube instructional videos. She’ll watch, pause it while she draws, then watch some more. She’s young enough that she’s really into imaginative play. Her and Wiggles pass lots of time building forts (they call them campers), mixing concoctions in the kitchen, or acting out Jake and the Neverland Pirates.
Smiles: You may remember how we decided to repeat the third grade, and I’m SO glad we did!! I never question this decision. He was just so far behind, but this year has been really transformational for him. He gets pulled out twice a day, once for reading and once for ESL support with all the other subjects. The speed at which this kid is learning how to read is amazing. If his progress continues, by the end of the school year he’ll be reading at a late 2nd grade level- so just one grade level behind. Can you even imagine moving to a foreign country, not knowing a single letter of their language, and then being nearly caught up just 24 short months later? He’s keeping up with the other subjects too. He’s multiplying and dividing, learning about the government, and can tell you the different parts of the water cycle. Two years ago he knew literally nothing. I remember practicing ABC flashcards for hours and repeating the spelling of his name hundreds of times until he memorized it. When a kid starts off that far behind it is completely overwhelming, but he’s putting in the work and we couldn’t be prouder. He does get graded now, but we don’t worry about that just yet. I’m guessing he’ll be totally caught up to grade level by late elementary school.
Diva: Diva had a huge advantage in schooling- she started off in kindergarten, where everyone is learning such basic skills that a lack of prior schooling doesn’t make that huge of an impact. That being said, she is most definitely behind her classmates but not to the degree Smiles is. She loves to write stories, but her spelling is so bad I need help reading most of them. She’s a natural student and enjoys school.
Smiles: We had a really tough first year with Smiles. He struggled for a long time with respecting authority, following rules, and just behaving normally. But it’s like he grew up about 5 years over the past 18 months. He’s a brand new kid! He still pushes buttons, blames others when he’s irresponsible, has bad attitudes about certain things, and antagonizes his siblings, but hey- he’s a kid!
Diva: Diva is without a doubt my easiest child. I think I’d be able to say that if I had 1,000 children- she’s just very well behaved. But, she is incredibly messy, totally forgetful, and would watch TV 23.5 hours a day if we let her.
Smiles: Smiles hates to talk about his past. It’s not something he’s proud of. I think in his mind he says “this is over with, I’m going to lock it away and never think about it again.” If you ask him questions about Ethiopia or look at old pictures he just completely shuts down; you can almost visibly see the wall go up. I’m happy he’s so happy here, but I also think that most issues adults have stem from childhood problems that weren’t dealt with properly, so I am determined to help him acknowledge and accept his beginnings. We do this in a couple of ways. First, we talk about it all the time. I know he hates it and he rolls his eyes every time I bring it up, but we keep doing it anyway. And it’s working, because little by little he is starting to open up. Second, we started him in play therapy recently. We found a lady who specializes in adoption and she’s just fantastic. It’s too early to tell what long term impacts this will have, but I want him to have a place outside the home that’s safe to talk about the feelings he’s having- and I also want to force him to feel and work though those feelings. One of my greatest fears is that if we don’t get him to accept the past now, it will manifest in teenage or later years in ways I don’t want to deal with. So, this is still an issue, but we’re working through it and seeing really positive strides.
Diva: Diva is the opposite of Smiles. I’m not a professional, but I think she deals with her past in a very healthy way. She’ll tell anyone who asks about her life in Ethiopia. She talks about her birth family often and is constantly giving me things to send to them. Our beloved dog is dying and I’ve been really bummed about it. The other day I was crying and she told me “Don’t worry Mommy. Even when he dies he will still live in your heart, just like my Ethiopia family lives in my heart.” Did I mention SHE’S SIX?!
So there you have it.
We did a lot of research going into adoption and were prepared to face all sorts of issues. Honestly, our kids aren’t perfect, but considering the instability they faced for several years it’s really incredible how perfectly they’ve fit into our family. I feel so lucky and blessed to call them son and daughter.