On the day of President Obama's inauguration, Mikias was in first grade and he was pretty pumped. He began watching the news coverage the moment he woke up. He was chanting with the crowd in Washington, "O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma! I could barely tear him away to catch the bus for school.
At the bus stop, I stated the obvious, "So, your pretty excited about the new president, huh?
He nodded in agreement.
"Because he has brown skin?"
"Yeah, and he had a white mom!"
I honestly had never made the connection. His next comment threw me.
"When did he get adopted?"
At this point the bus pulled up. I gave him a hug goodbye, and decided that is wouldn't do any harm to wait until that evening to explain that our new president was not adopted. (Although, I did plan to inform him that both President Ford and President Clinton were adopted.)
We make connections to people with whom we have something in common. This is why Ethiopian Culture Camp, where we spent our weekend, is one of the highlights of our family's year.
Three years ago when we drove to the first Culture Camp, I was pretty nervous. Mikias was 6, had been home for 18 months and 'hated' Ethiopia. If we looked at pictures from Ethiopia, played Ethiopian music or heaven forbid, talked about Ethiopia, he would cover his ears and say "No Ethiopia."
I did my best to be enthusiastic during that ride. I told him how much fun he was going to have with the other kids from Ethiopia. I gushed about how cool it was that we would be with families like ours. He just glared at me and said, "No Ethiopia." I was afraid our weekend was going to be a disaster.
As we pulled into the parking lot at camp, another family pulled in next to us. Two Ethiopian boys got out of their car, followed by their white parents. Mikias raised his eyebrows and gave me a look that told me this was a pleasant surprise. I started to feel optimistic.
Mikias hopped out of our car and asked the older boy if he was from Ethiopia. The boy responded, "Yeah." in a tone that implied the word 'duh'. Mikias gasped and said "Me too!"
That was that, Mikias loved Culture Camp and equally as important, began to feel proud of his heritage. He loved being with his Ethiopian friends. When I asked him the names of his new friends, he laughed and said, "I have no idea!" It truly didn't matter. He was with kids like him. For the first time in 18 months, I couldn't quickly pick him out of a crowd. We smiled the entire weekend. It was great being with families like ours.
Jemberu did something crazy, like standing on his head, and the other boy said, "Jemby that is so funny!"
Jemby, wanting to show his friend another one of his skills said, "Yeah, watch this Tariku!"
He did something else and the two boys cracked up.
Then it struck me, these boys knew each other. Yet, I was sure they hadn't met. I found Tariku's family and we compared notes. It turns out that they were in the same orphanage, they even slept in the same dorm room together. Now here they were. On the other side of the world. With brand new families. Speaking a new language. Playing together. No big deal.
I look around at camp and see how we are different and the same.
We are brand new parents.
We have been parents for decades.
We have families formed exclusively by adoption.
We have a blend of birth and adopted children.
We are single.
We are married.
We came to adoption after infertility.
We came to adoption because it called us.
We have one huge thing in common. We felt the pull of a child in Ethiopia and we acted on it. Our lives will never be the same. We are thankful.
Over the weekend we laugh (and cringe) at all of the crazy things people have said to us. We talk to other parents who face challenges similar to our own. We talk to parents who have been where we are and are happy to share how they got to the other side. We share the stresses and the funny moments.
Most of all, we share the incredible blessings of having our lives changed forever because we fell in love with our children from Ethiopia.
I am already looking forward to next year.