This is my little boy. This pale, malnourished little guy was almost 2 when this picture was taken. He had been living in a large government institution in Ethiopia when the director of an American adoption agency happened to set eyes on him. She later told me that there was something about the way he looked at her, as he sat listlessly in his crib, that told her she had to help this boy.
She was able to arrange for my son to be transferred to the small group home that her agency ran in the capital city, Addis Ababa. At that point she wasn’t even sure what his name was. He was given a sign with a name on it to hold and photographed so that a file could be started for him with the adoption agency. It later turned out that the name on the card was incorrect, but the picture remained in his file until the file was turned over to us nearly a year later.
An Abandoned Child
My son was an abandoned child. His birth parents chose not to raise him, and he was left in a busy marketplace, where the police were alerted to his presence and he was picked up and taken to the local precinct. “Boy, toddler, woreda (district) 13” is all that is recorded on the official police report. There is not even a date. No one knows my son’s birthdate. No one knows my son’s parents. No one knows where he was born, and no one knows why his birth parents chose to leave him behind. The workers at the large institution where he spent approximately a year of his life weren’t even sure of his name when he was turned over to yet another set of strangers, his future unknown. They called him Bereket, but that wasn’t his name.
Life was better for my son at the group home, but it still wasn’t a family. My son was luckier than most children: he learned quickly that a good strong tantrum will get you what you want, that self-abusive behavior will make people rush to appease you. He learned that demanding to be picked up and refusing with all your little might to be put down meant you got attention. He learned which of the adults in his life responded to him, and he made them the targets of his bids for attention. The woman who ran the group home could not set foot inside the compound without my son running from wherever he was to attach himself to her, and she could not put my son down until she left, however long later that might be. She told me that my son was different from all the other children; she told me that my son needed love more than the other children. Of course he didn’t really need love more; all children need love. But something inside my son was so desperate to be loved that he demanded the direct physical contact and connection that other children either could survive without or had given up hopes of attaining.
A New Family
My son was two when he joined our family. Our week with him in Ethiopia before we brought him home was discouraging, to say the least. My son hit. He kicked. He clawed. He shrieked. He banged his head on the ground if you set him down. He clung to you with his legs and strained his face away from you. He was ambivalent. He was terrified. He wanted to be loved but he was afraid of rejection. He craved love but feared yet another abandonment.
We brought my son home to a sister who was waiting for him, a sister who had asked for months on end when “the baby” was going to come, a sister who was nearly identical in age. We brought my son into the house, and my father brought my daughter into the room. These two toddlers looked at each other for a brief moment before my son walked over to my daughter, hugged her, and kissed her. Their bond was sealed.
My son is now 10. He is a strong, beautiful, compassionate, kind, funny young man who still struggles with the effects of early malnutrition, neglect, and abandonment. My son wonders aloud whether he is a “bad boy” and that is why his birth parents didn’t want him. My son is obsessed with food. My son is learning delayed. The “healthy” toddler we adopted turned out to need a host of medical, emotional, and behavioral interventions and ongoing treatments. My son is an ace hockey goalie who was the MVP of his league’s season-ending tournament, and my son is a hearing-impaired child whose speech and language issues persist into his eighth year post-adoption. My son is a chronic joke-teller and joke-player who struggles to tie his shoes and write his name.
A Boy in Ukraine
My son escaped the fate to which so many children are relegated, children like Vladik, a Kalinovka child who captured my heart. Vladik, like my son, is 10 this year. Vladik, like my son, has a smile that burrows into your heart and leaves you breathless. Vladik, like my son, is busy and into everything. Vladik, unlike my son, spends his days tied to a crib, bored and neglected to the point of head-banging and hitting himself. Vladik, whose name I did not know when I first encountered his picture but whose name I worked hard to discover, because I know that having a name changes everything in this world of orphan advocacy and adoption. You cannot turn away from a child whose name you know.
I have three children, and I love them all. But it is my son who has inspired me most. Unlike my biological daughter, my son has persevered and achieved without the benefit of excellent prenatal care and a devoted stay-at-home mother from day one. My son is happy, loving, compassionate, and a champion of the underdog. My son cares for animals and orphans (indeed, he is a vegan and has volunteered at the Humane Society and as an assistant foster parent for rescued domestic bunnies as well as being the undisputed favorite of the 9 animal companions in our home, and he begs me to adopt a brother for him). My son is cheerful, rarely giving in to the frustrations he meets every day in trying to express himself, conquer his schoolwork, buckle his belt, control his impulse to steal food and gorge, and watch as his same-age sister accomplishes everything with ease. My son is my inspiration and the reason that I have continued to advocate for adoption and for children with special needs. My son is the reason that I fell in love with Vladik and discovered Maya’s Hope as I searched for a way that I could help him.
Two little boys, born the same year but a world apart, one the example of what a loving family can do, one still waiting for his chance. This summer I will be traveling to Kalinovka to spend time with Vladik and the other precious children residing at the institution.
Who is your inspiration, and what will you be inspired to do?
Check out videos on Vladik!
Check out Daneille’s Blog: http://www.networkedblogs.com/blog/the-wonder-of-boys
She also started a Crowdrise page to raise money for Kalinovka! http://www.crowdrise.com/kalinovka/fundraiser/daneillevrtar