Mommy tell me a story about me. Tariku said tonight at dinner.
Tariku isn’t a kid who likes the attention on him. Good or bad he’d rather raise someone else up than have the focus be on him. At 6-years-old he’s the only kid on his basketball team who passes more than he shoots. Only kid on his team who celebrates just as much (if not more so) when his teammates score as he does when he scores. As his mom, when he asks for a story, I do it. Because it does not happen often.
So I tell him the story of the first time Zach and I saw his face in person. That moment when our eyes connected and he jumped up from his chair and ran, diving into Zach’s arms. I explained how he grabbed the stickers from my hands and placed a sticker on each of his friend’s foreheads before he placed one on his. We talked and talked about stories from Ethiopia. Tariku, who has heard these stories at least 20 times, laughs at the right moments. But he laughs a laugh of a kid who is hearing it about someone else.
Do you remember any of this? I ask
Eyes down, biting his lip. No
How does that make you feel to not remember? Does it make you sad?
Eyes on me, tears fill then run over. Yes
Daddy to the rescue. Tariku I found a video of you! A video from when you first came home.
The family of 7 gathers around the small screen. We laugh at the right moments, I squeeze his shoulder. I suck up the tears. He was so small, his smile so bright. At the close of the video Tariku looks to me with the renewed sense of identity and I smile back hoping he knows how much I wish things were different for him.
Tomas has a bump on his chin. It’s large. It feels like he broke his chin and it was never fixed so his jaw bone just grew another jaw. He has a large scar over his eyebrow.
Binyam has tiny marks all over his torso. Black little lines, some look like small circles.
These boys came to us with stories. Tariku was 3 when we met him, Tomas was 6 and Binyam was 3. These are, of course, estimated ages. Regardless, there were years of stories that are left untold by anyone in this family.
And it breaks my freakin’ heart.
Tell me a story about me.
I both love and hate when they ask this of me. Because I know, of course, that their stories don’t start at 3 and 6. But dammit if that’s all I know.
I ache to tell them of their birth, the way their moms kissed their foreheads or the way their dads first held them and gave them their names. I long to tell them of the time they were running too fast and split open their face. I wish I knew where every scar came from.
But I don’t. I have no idea if any of that happened. And though all of the boys have many memories from Ethiopia they don’t remember the things they most want to.
Did my mom look at me the way you do? Did my brothers love me the way my brothers/sister here do? Was I funny in Ethiopia? Was I smart? Did I struggle with this? Did I excel at that?
So much of my identity sprung from the first few years of my life. And it does for my boys too. Tonight I wish the amount of love I have for them would be enough. Enough to conjure up their stories. Their complete stories.
But it isn’t.
And so I’ll repeat the same stories. The stories of when our story first started together. And hope that it’s enough, until of course it’s not. Then I’ll rely on grace and mercy to help them heal.
Tariku wrote a note tonight after storytelling. “for mom and dad from Tariku. Thank you mommy for adopting me from Ethopea. Amarica is a grate plase to live and this is for you to dad. I love you two.” Below that is the Ethiopian flag and the American flag.
I love him so much. That’s why it hurts so bad to see his tears and hear the meaning behind his words. That’s why international adoption cannot be entered into lightly. It’s not about you, it’s about them. And they have so much healing to do. I guess we all do, don’t we?
Grace and mercy. Thankful for those too.