Everything we thought was about Dawit was really more about us.
Two years is a long time in some respects. But I had no idea how quickly two years could pass.
That’s how long it has been since my wife and I landed in Addis Ababa and laid eyes on a little guy that would change our lives forever.
I will never forget walking into that room and experiencing the exhilaration of a little boy who had existed only in photographs becoming a tangible part of our lives.
So many things have happened in those two years but somehow time has been condensed.
I remember when we first felt called to adopt a little boy from Ethiopia. I felt good about the fact that our family had agreed to help a little boy in need. I couldn’t help but think about how his life would be changed forever. The trip from an orphanage in Ethiopia to a preschool in Kansas is not insignificant.
His life has been changed. Every day, he comes closer to mastering English. He has a lot of friends and you see how big his heart is every time he gets to enjoy time playing with them. And in those few times when he slows down, the heaviness of his hugs and sincerity of his affection show how much he enjoys being part of a family again.
But I know something now that I never even imagined two years ago. This adoption had something to do with changing Dawit. It had a lot more to do with changing us.
We had been parents for years. But until you have a fully functioning four-year old in your house who can feed himself, clothe himself and take care of most personal needs but can’t communicate with you, you don’t know what frustration is. He was frustrated. We were frustrated.
The most basic things we believed were wrong. In every photo we had seen, Dawit was playing by himself with plastic building blocks. Obviously, this kid had a reserved personality and loved playing with blocks.
So when we got ready to bring him home a few months later, we had enough blocks to build a cathedral. The only problem is that blocks aren’t his favorite thing to play with.
In the orphanage they were. But not in his own space.
What happened was a three-year-old who spoke Tigrinyan was dropped in a home with a couple dozen other kids who spoke Amharic. The workers also spoke Amharic – except for the American workers who spoke English. It is awfully hard to join in a game of tag or just about anything if you can’t communicate. So he found one of the few toys in the room and sat by himself and played.
He wasn’t a loner. He just couldn’t join in.
But he is smart. Watching him learn has made me appreciate his determination to fit in. During soccer practices, he wouldn’t understand what the coaches were saying. He had some idea, but a lot of the words were new. So when they did a drill in practice, he stood at the back of the line and watched other kids do what the coach had asked. By the time it was his turn, Dawit had a basic idea of what he needed to do.
We learned from watching him learn.
Sometimes around the house, our words weren’t always clear. He wasn’t being defiant. He was confused. His behavior wasn’t a problem. Our ability to clearly communicate with him was a problem.
We have also seen some of the first signs of how he will deal with the emotional trauma of being abandoned by his mother. At first glance, he bears no emotional scars from the experience. He wakes up with a smile on his face, laughs and plays all day and goes to bed happy.
We should all be so lucky.
But around the Thanksgiving holiday, Dawit became quite a pill. At my mother’s house, he would pour out soft soap or one of his cousins’ lotion bottles on the floor or in a sink.
He was making messes like he was getting paid for it. We exhausted all of our ideas to change his behavioral issues. But then we realized that he was feeling out of control. He didn’t have the structure of preschool in his days. Dawit needs a schedule.
When he was abandoned, the orphanage did one thing better than anything else. They gave him structure. He knew when he would eat, sleep, and play. The days were rhythmic and he found comfort and security in that.
He had the same experience here - preschool five days a week, a free day Saturday and church on Sunday. When that rhythm was lost because of going to a new place with a lot of people and he didn’t know what he was going to do or when he was going to do it, he acted out.
There wasn’t anything wrong with what he was doing. He just didn’t feel comfortable.
So over the Christmas break when there would be more traveling, we explained how each day would work. We reminded him each morning what today’s schedule would contain.
And he became one of the best kids ever. I would challenge any five-year old to behave as well as he did.
That has been the theme of the past couple of years. Everything we thought was about Dawit was really more about us.
He has learned a new language and had to assimilate into a new culture.
But he has also taught us a lot along the way.
Kent Bush is the publisher of The Augusta Daily Gazette, The El Dorado Times, and The Andover American newspapers. He can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org.