"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
- James 1:27
I have heard it said that when you have a second or third child, love doesn't divide, it multiplies. It's hard to believe that the immense love that you have for your first child could mushroom. Whose heart has room?
When my kid's dad and I went to Ethiopia to gather our last two kids in to our family, my chief emotion was fear. At first, I was afraid for the boys. Were they all right? Were they being treated well? Then, I was afraid of the boys. What if they didn't like me? What if I didn't like THEM? Not long before we got our child proposal, I had a dream where our advocate at the adoption agency showed me a picture of a little girl. It looked like a mug shot of Nick Nolte caught in a drunken stupor. The advocate assured me, "no one else can handle her but we think you can." I woke up in a panic.
My fears continued to multiply as our trip to Ethiopia approached. When our plane landed for a scheduled stop in Khartoum, the city appeared darkly menacing to me. In my memory, it is the colour of sand, and there are men with guns on the tarmac. And when we FINALLY arrived in Addis Ababa, a mass of Muslim women and men with long flowing robes filled the concourse, the women with faces covered, deep brown eyes evaluating me. Unadorned, I felt stark and oh so visibly WHITE against the landscape of black robes and faces.
Walking the streets of Addis with our boys on our hips, everyone SAW us, examined us, asked us for money, and jostled up close to us. I was afraid for myself, and for my boys. Once, handing granola bars out the window of our taxi, the window filled with the swarming faces of homeless children. They grabbed and yelled, and I thought I would fall over with my alarm.
Brad would wander the streets of Addis, but I stayed in the guest house. I wasn't just afraid, I was ashamed. Here I was in my boy's birth country, and it was all I could do to cope. I had thought I was stronger, braver, more cosmopolitain. I was exposed.
The night we left Addis, our youngest son escaped my fearful clutches AGAIN and ran! Looking over his shoulder, he shot me a look that said, "Whatcha gonna do about it, white lady?" A new fear arose. Had we done the right thing? What if this was all a mistake?
When we arrived home, the hard work began. Parenting is not romantic. It is not efficient, it does not go as planned. It is disruptive. By the time we had our boys diagnosed with giardia, they had passed it on to their sister, who then passed it back to them while they were on medication. Each morning, as we headed into the lab in town to take a new stool sample, the kids asked, "Whose kaka are we taking in today mommy?" It took three months to get everyone well again.
For a year, this was life. I hardly remember it. It was a fury of feeding, driving, washing, breathing deeply, and falling into bed just to start over again the next day. But slowly, my fears faded in the presence of acceptance. My love started to mushroom.
A year and a half ago, we went back to Ethiopia to meet our boy's birth family. All my fear was gone. I travelled by myself and when I arrived in Addis, the Ethiopian faces that I saw reminded me of my boys, my family. On a trip into the countryside, we heard the familiar yell of "ferenji" (foreigner!) and we all wondered, "who are the foreigners?... Oh yes, WE are the foreigners."
Adoption has opened my heart, not just to my sons, but to "the other". Adoption has become the bridge in my heart to compassion, to understanding. It has freed me from (some) of my fearful self awareness. My first reaction to the new, to the strange, is no longer to shrink. Love has overcome. Love has mushroomed.