I've thought about these posts a lot. How to put them all together, what words to use, what words would say it the best? There are no words. There are no collective thoughts that will accurately reflect all that I felt during those days with my oldest son. But here it goes:
Kaleab has been in my life since May of 2009. Everyone in my life who knows me well, knows that I have prayed about what my role is to be in his life, that I would love to bring him into our home and adopt him. Arriving in Ethiopia, I was more nervous about meeting Kaleab than I was about meeting Alazar and Ruta. I knew the role God had set me in for Alazar and Ruta's lives, but with Kaleab, I still had no answers. I was dying to get them.
I had replayed our first meeting over and over in my mind for months. I think I changed clothes at least three times that morning before we left the guest house. I laughingly told Le that I felt like a teenager on their first date. What if he didn't like me? What if I didn't look anything like my pictures? What if he thought we were crazy travelling across the earth to disrupt his school day and meet him?
Le kept asking me if I wanted to have our first meeting on video tape. I didn't. I knew nothing could capture it as well as my own memory. And if he ran off screaming at the sight of us, I didn't need that reminder either.
As we pulled up to his care center, I kept looking around for any sign that children were close by. We were on a very busy street, with no crosswalks, no lights, no crossing guards. Our car stopped in front of a blazing yellow building advertising the National Beer of Ethiopia. Were we even in the right place? To the side of the eyesore structure, was a dirt path, leading up a small incline. Fifteen steps later, we reached a sheet metal gate. One rap on the door and it swung open, greetings from a security guard and we were in. I was officially breathless! I no longer could remember how our meeting played out in my fantasies. I could think of nothing, just knowing I was feet away from the rock star in my life made me giddy. I was going to have to consciously not hug him to death.
And then...there he was! MUCH shorter than I imagined and much more shy than I had thought. He was at my side. The eyes were his, the face belonged to the boy from my letters, but there was something missing. Was this even him? I knelt beside him and said his name . Then his lips separated from one another and revealed his sparkling white teeth. That gave him away. And it was there in the dirt, I hugged my son for the first time, careful to let him expend enough breath to inhale again and so I continued to hug him.
The staff led us inside and while he was too shy to hold my hand, Kaleab never let me out of his sight. During the coffee ceremony he sat beside me and while I tried to keep from staring at him, he kept sneaking side long glaces at me. And when our eyes met, I was treated to that smile again.
I kept wanting to reach out and just hold him, squeeze him, photograph every second we were within proximity, kiss his face and declare my undying love for my boy, but I didn't. As much as he was curious, he was cautious. And I respected his shyness and just waited for the smiles.
I had brought him three very small gifts: an Oklahoma t-shirt, a wooden cross that I had worn for months before we left and a small photo album of us.
I gave him the t-shirt first. He smiled. My heart skipped a beat.
I didn't realize that pictures caused such a stir, but when I handed them to him, they were immediately whisked away by another boy and I'm not sure Kaleab has seen them all before they were disseminated through the entire care center. He didn't grab or scream for them back, he just simply smiled and let them be enjoyed by everyone, although he kept a very watchful eye on them.
During the pandemonium, one of the directors of his care center came and sat next to me. "He's not like the other boys, you know?" The puzzled look on my face gave me away. "What do you mean?" He laughed and said "well, the other boys are wild and don't have discipline, but not Kaleab. He is quiet and sincere and is a good boy. He is special." I smiled back the tears. "I knew he was, but I just thought I was biased because I'm his mom".
The worker just smiled back "No. Everyone knows he's special." Ahh. Confirmation from a 3rd party that my son is amazing. They could have just asked me. I could have told them.