A month or so ago, I entered the Write! Canada writing contest in hopes of winning free admission to their annual conference. Sadly, the third-place $50 prize isn’t going to go very far towards the conference fee. However, I’m very pleased that I placed at all. And happy for Write! Canada to have received at least three entrants in the Young Adults category. (Yes, yes I actually belong in that category. Zip it!)
I have been working on and off (okay, mostly ‘off’ since I had to re-complete Angry Birds and I had a couple of other writing projects to finish for Easter…but those jobs are done now) on a book about our parenting experience. I whittled down Chapter Two to fit the 1500 word limit and that was my contest entry. Would you like to read it? Here you go!
Contrary to all the joking about bringing home adorable African babies, we had not moved to Ethiopia intending to adopt. We had two children and we were happy with them and they were happy with us. The end.
It’s like God thought I was daring Him.
After two weeks in Ethiopia, another missionary invited me to attend a ladies’ brunch so I could meet other women and begin making friends. Brunch included a panel discussion about adoption. My first thought was, “Lord, we’re not having that conversation. Don’t You even start with me!”
By the end of that brunch, I had my fingers in my ears as I sang, “I can’t hear You!” That never works well. (Someday I’ll remember that.) I reluctantly committed to pray about this adoption idea but it was really more debate than prayer. I had legitimate concerns (like expenses! and my precious time!) that I loaded onto the “cons” side of the scale. Onto the “pros” side of the scale, God threw little ditties about undefiled religion and orphan-care. Boom. Scale unbalanced.
I eventually seceded from the argument and begrudgingly agreed to the next step. But little did God know what He was up against. My secret weapon. Ain’t no way my man was going to agree to extra kids!
In this corner, wearing black shorts, is Patrick Neuman, weighing in at (number withheld for author’s protection). And in this corner, wearing the luminous robe, is Almighty Creator of the Universe, weighing in at Completely Immeasurable! To your corners, gentlemen! Ding-ding!
So much for my secret weapon.
We agreed to pursue adoption proceedings, but we were suspicious that God was only testing our willingness to obey him and any moment now He was going to let us off the hook. We bulldozed through our paperwork, showing God how obedient we were. We met with officials, sent emails, did research and kept waiting for the door to close. But that door just stayed wide open! And we found ourselves getting excited about the idea along the way.
Throughout the process, we had ongoing discussions about our future kids (yes, two). We adhered to conventional wisdom about maintaining natural birth order, which meant we wanted kids under the age of six. We also had no inclination whatsoever to repeat the baby stage, which further narrowed our age window.
Because we lived in Ethiopia, our adoption process was considered local. We obtained permission to bypass the adoption agency quagmire and work personally with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA). This loophole in which we found ourselves certainly had pros and cons. It greatly reduced the number of people, offices, and governments for whose approval we needed to grovel, and whose extensive (and varied) requirements we had to fulfill. Our to-do list was comparatively short.
We did, however, have one giant task before us that most adoptive parents don’t have to personally face: finding and choosing children. I clearly remember the day we brought our truckload of official documents and notarized paperwork to the MOWA office. We presented our dossier to the director and waited in his office while he read it, signed various pages, stamped numerous places with the official MOWA stamp, and asked occasional questions. Then it was over. He stood, shook our hands and said we were approved. He ushered us towards the door. We were dumfounded about what that meant.
“What do we do now?” we asked.
“Go find children. Then come back here.”
Right. Okay then. We’ll just walk out into this city of 7 million people and pick two children. How exactly do we do that?
It’s easier said than done. Most legally adoptable children are already registered in orphanages that are directly affiliated with international adoption agencies. We weren’t agency clients, so those children weren’t available to us. Conversely, most government-run orphanages lack the infrastructure or policies allowing them to work with foreign families. Oy.
It took us seven weeks to find a place that could work with us. I immediately called and arranged a next-day appointment. We took our daughters along so the director could meet our whole family and make the best possible match for us. We had all our signed, stamped documentation from MOWA. We spent an hour travelling across town, anticipation building all the way.
When we arrived, we were shown into the director’s office, where he glanced through our paperwork. We told him we wanted two children between the ages of two and five. He led us into a lounge area where we could all sit comfortably, and then twenty kids between the ages of two and five streamed into the room. They climbed into our laps. They stroked our hair and our hands. They tried on our sunglasses. They dug through my purse. They hugged us, sang, laughed, and danced. We smiled and played with them and wondered where the director had gone.
Eventually, he returned and said the words that broke my heart, “Pick which two you want.”
Seriously? Pick two from these twenty who were all looking at us expectantly? How? What ungodly criteria could we possibly use? The cutest ones? The ones whose names we could pronounce? The ones who were hugging us the tightest? We couldn’t do it. We couldn’t look into all those beautiful faces and randomly choose to take two and leave the rest.
We thanked the director for his time, took our paperwork, and left. Seven weeks we had spent looking for a place that would work with us, and then we couldn’t work with them.
God graciously provided a new option the very next day and this time, we did not take our girls with us. We couldn’t risk putting them through the same ordeal. The director of this orphanage welcomed us into her office and took her time reviewing our paperwork. As before, we stated that we wanted two children between the ages of two and five. She had a wonderful boy that she really wanted us to meet. We asked how old he was and she said he was eight. We told her we wanted younger children. She insisted that we meet this wonderful eight-year-old boy. We said we already had an eight-year-old. She said, “He’s actually nine.”
Well, his intake file said he was eight, but he’d been there for more than a year, so he must be nine now. This did not reassure us in the least. We argued, but she brought him in anyway.
We smiled at him and shook his hand. We hoped that it was normal procedure for children to meet visitors and that they didn’t look at everyone as possibly being “My New Parents Who Will Love Me Forever”. We tried to converse, but he didn’t speak English. We were limited to, “How is it with you?” and “How old are you?” He told us he was eight.
Clearly we couldn’t work with this orphanage either, if they would disregard such simple parameters. We left completely discouraged.
During the drive home, we re-examined our reasons for adopting. It wasn’t because of a need to expand our family; it was about obedience to God. We reconsidered our motives for our specified ages and realized we had let go of all other parameters (gender, special needs, health concerns…) and committed to take the two kids who needed us the most – except for our specified ages. Maybe, just maybe, the kid who needed us the most, the kid God had chosen for us, was beyond the scope of what we had envisioned.
We evaluated what we had to offer: knowledge of Ethiopian culture and language, plans to stay in-country for seven more months, a school where he could learn English and still receive tutoring in Amharic, and a bilingual neighbourhood support network. Maybe we could do this.
Plus, he’d been in the orphanage for over a year. We knew the statistics: older kids only get adopted when they come with a baby sibling. This boy was alone and had waited long enough. He needed us.
As soon as we got home, I called the director and told her we’d take him, but she would have to choose another child for us quickly so we could complete both adoptions with one court process. And we were firm that this one had to be between two and five!
Two weeks later, they matched us to another child. They said “baby”, but in Ethiopian culture, that could be a four-year-old, so we weren’t concerned. It was a boy. He’d just been taken into care and we could come meet him immediately. He was one month old.
We didn’t argue.
The ensuing court process, complete with developing-world efficiency and language barriers, made us consider that maybe the astronomical expense of hiring an agency to do all this for us might actually be a bargain. In the end, we welcomed our boys home on December 20, 2007. Levi was two months old. Teddy was eight. Sort of.