Yep, that’s right. Today marks the two-year anniversary of stepping off the plane onto American soil with two tiny, scared Ethiopians. I have to admit, March 7, 2012 was one of the hardest, longest, most draining days of my life. (Every day since is a close second.) But it is the day our family became a family.
So usually on these milestones (six months home, one year home, 18 months home), I reflect on the kids and where they are. But this time, I am more focused on myself. So, I’m going to give you a list (in no particular order) of what I’ve learned over the past two years.
- You can love an adopted kid just as much as you love biological kids. I know, everyone has heard this before. I believed it, right up until I adopted kids. Then it immediately felt different and strange. I was suddenly parenting someone else’s 5-year-old. And he didn’t behave like a 5-year-old I would have raised. I admit, I wondered if it had all been hype. But it’s not. I now honestly love my adopted kiddos just as much as their older siblings. They are now mine.
- You have to fight for your kids. Again, I had heard people say this and nodded politely. But, having two kids who didn’t need additional services, support, or therapies, I didn’t know the extent. I still think some days I haven’t fought hard enough (still waffling on whether to wage a war with insurance over neurofeedback therapy), but I know that I’ve done more than many parents will ever have to do. It’s exhausting. It’s confusing. It’s like learning a foreign language without a dictionary. But I feel like we are in a good place now. Of course, now Lucy is getting older and showing similar behaviors as her brother, so it maybe time to start round two.
- Watching my child learn something new is still the most wonderful feeling in the world, but it’s even better now. My first two kids are pretty smart. They have had only minor struggles in school. They were both early readers. They both soaked up information like a sponge. And I loved to see them learn new things. But Ayub has made this process even more wonderful. When he has grasped new things, it has never been without struggle, which makes it all the more valuable in the end. I love watching all my kids light up, but with Ayub, it is so much more meaningful, because we’ve had to fight for every scrap of it.
- Adoption is loss. Yes, this was in every adoption training I attended. Every book I read. Every blog I followed. And I knew this in my head. Only recently have I felt it in my heart. Our kids have lost so much. Sure, they have a great life here, but it’s not with their first family, it’s not with their culture, it’s not with their language, it’s not with people who look like them, it’s not with their foods, songs or festivals. That’s a lot. Especially for a kid who remembers some of those things. Dinner at a nearby Ethiopian restaurant isn’t enough to replace what’s lost. There is a sadness that runs under our kids, no matter how happy they look or how much they laugh. And I’m suddenly starting to deal with it myself. This week, Ayub told me he was sad he couldn’t speak “Africanharic” any more. And there are so many other things to be sad about, too.
- My kids are lucky. Huh? Wait a minute. Adoptive parents NEVER say that. Any time someone tells us our kids are so lucky to have been adopted, we respond with “we’re the lucky ones,” because we know about that adoption loss thing. (See previous bullet point.) But lately I’ve been thinking a lot more about this. Our kids are DAMN lucky. Out of all the adoptive parents in the world, they ended up with us. I have to tell you, I truly believe that if Ayub had been adopted by a different family, his adoption could have been disrupted by now, or even worse, he could have ended up like Hana Williams. But he got us. The family who is willing to advocate for him. The one that has insurance that covers therapy (even if not as much as we’d like). The family where mom decided to stay home to help him catch up to grade level. The family that is willing to read everything possible if it might make a difference in his life. I’m not saying that we’re the best parents ever (although I’m sure we’re close). What I am saying is that he ended up with us instead of a family who was led to believe that “love heals all” or “prayer is the answer.” Because it doesn’t and it isn’t. So there, I said it. Our kids are lucky.
As you read this, I am spending my last day at home with Lucy. Next week, she will start school and the following week I am starting a new job. I have never cried when one of my kids started school. Not preschool, not Kindergarten, not ever. I have always been excited for them. But I’ve never spent two solid years with any of my kids. Until Lucy. And because of that, I think Monday morning will be a little rough. I know she’s ready to move on without me, and I know she will flourish spending time with her peers. But I’m really gonna miss my shadow. The last two years were totally unexpected to me, but I’m so grateful that I got to see my littlest become a big girl. Except for that potty training part…that sucked. It’s kind of ironic that the timing of this all worked out. Exactly two years (to the day) after becoming a family, we’re finally returning to the family structure I always thought we would have. It’s been a wild two years, one that’s been immeasurably harder than I expected, but one that has rewarded us beyond belief.
And, because I know that this is what you really wanted to see, here are some then and now pics: