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Coming Home

Seven years ago today we brought Kaleb home from Ethiopia. I'll never forget walking into our house that day and seeing the looks on Abigail and Paige's faces as they saw their baby brother in person for the first time. Adopting Kaleb was a three year journey, culminating with two trips to Ethiopia. On the first trip, we met our son and stood before court declaring we wanted to become his adoptive parents. We spent almost two weeks exploring his county and interacting with locals who were fascinated by our white skin, soft hair, and James' large nose. I remember buying a soda for a little girl at a market and she was so grateful, she sucked it down too fast, but resolved to finish it because in Ethiopia you don't waste anything. Especially a gift. We visited different tribes who practiced primitive rituals we would find unacceptable here, but for them, it was a way of life. We saw a little boy engrossed in an old strip of camera film he found and coveted as a fascinating toy.

We stayed in hotels that did not have reliable electricity or running water, but by Ethiopian standards, were four diamond caliber. We didn't mind, though. It was the trip of a lifetime and we fell in love with the people, the way of life, and the beautiful scenery and wildlife. We realized that while they didn't have much, they weren't unhappy. They were content and understood what hard work means and valued the few possessions they had in a way we never will.

When it was time to meet our son, we knew a few words in Amharic, but that was about all we had that would be familiar to him. He had never seen white skin and it was rare to see adult males in the care centers. But Kaleb came right to me, and it didn't take long for us to make him smile. Later, the care takers offered popcorn and coffee (I went through the trip with a permanent coffee buzz because offering coffee is the hospitable thing to do and you don't say no). Kaleb helped himself to popcorn and began feeding it to us. We were smitten. And we knew he would fit right into our family.

Leaving him was challenging, but we knew we would return in a few weeks to bring him home. Those weeks felt like forever, but when we finally got notice that it was time to go get our son, we booked the soonest flight we could, and told the girls that when we returned, we would be bringing their new brother with us.

Flying home on a 30 hour journey with a twenty-two month old child who didn't understand English and was hesitant to go to James because he was a male, was challenging. I was peed and puked on, but when we touched down on U.S. soil at JFK, we knew we were close. The short flight to Boston and car ride from there felt longer than the entire rest of the trip as we anticipated our children meeting for the first time.

Abigail and Paige were with James's parents and met us in the driveway armed with books and toys. Kaleb didn't know what to make of them, but, as is his way, he rolled with it, and within minutes, was getting a tour of his room and hearing My Truck is Stuck for the first of many readings.

He slept straight through the first night and continues to do so to this day. He was a barrel of energy right from the start and seemed to know just how to make people laugh and adore him, always steeling the show once he got a rise out of someone. The very first day he was home, we took him to a restaurant for lunch. We were told not to overwhelm him and keep him home and with immediate family until he seemed somewhat adjusted, but our instincts told us Kaleb wanted to start his new life without wasting any time. We were right. He made friends with the waitress, chased his sisters around the picnic tables, and fed the fish in the coy pond as if he had done it a million times.

I rarely think about the fact that Kaleb is adopted. He fits right into our family and American life so naturally. The other day, we were driving and he was complaining that the road was bumpy. "You should go to Ethiopia someday!" I told him, pointing out that our roads are paved while bumpy dirt roads were the norm there. He freaks out if a bug lands on him, but in Ethiopia, flies would congregate on his face and he wouldn't flinch. Back then, he would make toys out of sticks, and now, he panics if his tablet takes too long to load.

One day, we will take him back to see the wonderful country from which he hails. Right now, it's a foreign concept to him. But he is proud of his heritage and his story. We were once on an elevator at a hotel and a gentleman asked where we were from. Without hesitation, he said, "Ethiopia." That will always be part of him and his story. People sometimes tell us that we did such a wonderful thing by adopting him and that he is lucky. I tell them, 'no, you have it all wrong. We are the lucky ones. He brings so much to us.'

Foot Note: Coincidentally, for the first time since I started writing this blog, I was not interrupted once because Kaleb and his two younger sisters are playing a game he invented. What a great big brother.

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