I want to thank Jason for asking me to be a guest on his blog. I write about adoption and parenting for LIFEclectic Magazine, an online parenting magazine. Following, is a piece I wrote on the first anniversary of when my husband and I became parents. Our journey to parenting took many years, and everyday I am grateful to be a mom.
“Today, August 2, 2011, marks the year anniversary of the day we took custody of our son, The Littlest E, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In the adoptive world people often refer to this day as “Gotcha Day.” We like to call it our Family Day because it was the day we became a family. I’ve been reflecting a lot on what family means to me and thought it only fitting to share those reflections on our day of celebration.
There are different kinds of family. There’s the family you are born into, your step-family (if you come from a divorced home and a parent remarries) and the extended family, which can include aunts, uncles, cousins, close friends, etc. There is the family you marry or partner into and the family you create, whether married, partnered or single. I’m sure I’ve left out a number of other kinds of families, but you get the idea.
To me, family is about as sacred as marriage. I’m not sure if I’ve always felt this way or if it’s because of the long and often heartbreaking journey it took to become a family. I don’t take my marriage for granted, and I don’t take my family for granted.
I still remember our wedding day, standing under a gazebo (our huppah) on a late September morning with an Episcopalian minister and a dear friend who was a minister (and happened to be Jewish) performing our dual ceremony. There was sacredness when we said our vows in front of God, family and friends. My heart was filled with love and connectedness holding my husband’s hands as we made our commitment to each other.
In order to adopt The Littlest E, we, in a sense, had to take adoption vows. Our dossier included a letter we wrote to the Ethiopian government stating we would provide for, love, care for and nurture a child, and that it would be a great honor and privilege if they would allow us to adopt a child from their country. By writing that letter, we were making a promise and commitment to the Ethiopian government, a promise we both earnestly made.
We also made a statement at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa that we would be responsible for The Littlest E. I will always hold dear our Embassy date, such an exciting day! The energy inside the Embassy was one of tremendous joy because of all the other families who had been united through adoption. It was amazing seeing them, knowing our turn would come up soon. Finally, our group went upstairs to where the clerk was. When our time came, my husband, The Littlest E and I stood at the clerk’s window and answered his questions. Elated doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt when our adoption was approved. That day was nearly as momentous as our first day with our son. Both days solidified the creation of our forever family.
Many adoptive families have what are called “claiming ceremonies,” which are usually parties or gatherings where the adoptive parents claim their child before their guests. We didn’t have a claiming ceremony, but my sister and best friend threw a party for us to introduce our Bay Area family and friends to The Littlest E. It was a wonderful and overwhelming day. At the party were a lot of our family and close friends who had taken the six-and-a-half year journey with us, all there to celebrate in our love and happiness at finally being a family. At one point during the party, my husband and I acknowledged those in attendance (and those who couldn’t be there) to thank them for their love and support over those years. We held The Littlest E, the light of our lives, and introduced him to everyone. It was kind of like the scene in “The Lion King” where baby Simba is born and Rafiki, the wise, old baboon, holds him up on the highest rock for the entire animal kingdom to see. It may be hokey to make that comparison, but it’s how it felt. I’m sure everyone has had moments of rejoicing at the introduction of the newest member of his or her family.
We went to Addis Ababa a single couple and came home a family. It took a while for us to find our groove as a family; having a schedule and getting into a routine helped. I have to admit there were moments when it felt awkward and natural at the same time adjusting to life as a family. One thing we began, and still do, is at least once a day we have a family hug. We embrace each other and acknowledge our family. We also have dinner together every night, and this is something I hope we continue in the years to come. We make sure we have family play time after dinner and spend time together on weekends. Over this past year, our family bond has grown and deepened. What was once new has now become a given. It’s still special, but it’s as regular as breathing. We just live.”
As the holidays approach, our family togetherness becomes even stronger. Last year we celebrated the holidays with our son for the first time, but this year, he’s really aware of everything. We bought a Christmas tree, and he’s fascinated with the lights and ornaments. He loves Santa, can’t wait for him to come visit and talks about him daily. Our family is creating our own holiday traditions. We will celebrate Christmas by going to church on Christmas Eve and light our menorah during the eight days of Hanukkah. I find a sense of peace and calm when the lights are low, and I look at the colored lights on the tree and the glowing flames of the Hanukkah candles, like little angels floating in the air. It’s a special time of year.
The joy of giving is what matters most during the holiday season. The Littlest E has gotten into the spirit of giving by picking out what he’s getting his grandparents for Christmas – dried mangos, yogurt snacks and cookies. His face lights up when he talks about these gifts. It warms my heart to see this. It really is hard to imagine what our life was like before he came along, before we became a family. Wishing you all a healthy, happy and safe holiday season.
About Melanie Elliott
Melanie is a wife, mom, writer and semi-retired actor living in the Los Angeles area. After a long journey to parenthood, she and her husband brought home their son from Ethiopia in August 2010. She blogs about parenting, mom firsts and adoption. Melanie is passionate about international adoption, inter-racial families and people with fertility issues. She has a B.A. in History from UC Berkeley and is putting her M.F.A. in Acting (The Theatre School, DePaul University) to good use when reading Sandra Boynton books to her amazing son. She is also writing a novel chronicling her path to becoming a mom. You can follow her on Twitter.