The news that we were going to be welcoming a child into our home did not exactly go over well with the two who have been around for awhile.
I’m not sure what my wife, Carla, and I expected when we sat our boys down for a Family Meeting to tell them a host child from Africa would be joining our household for six to nine months, but it wasn’t what we got.
Now, to be fair, I have not done a good job of calling Family Meetings to say things like, “And we’re all going to Hawaii!” or “Playstation 5’s… for each of you!” No. Our Family Meetings have been for things like, “Joey, you’re going to have a baby brother or sister!” or “Boys, we’re moving!” They have every right to come into them defensively.
Joey was 18 at the time — he’s 19 now — and a freshman at Mizzou. His first comment: “He’s not going to take my room, is he?”
“Well, Joey, yes, there’s a chance he’s going to sleep in your room. You’ve been posting up in the basement when you come back for visits, anyway.”
Now before you yell at me, dear reader, the basement is finished and has a pretty boss TV, his Playstation (4, not 5, sadly for them), it’s own kitchenette, bathroom, couch and entrance/exit. It’s a freaking apartment. I wasn’t relegating him to some cobweb-strewn, mouse-infested, spooky dungeon.
Joey was not impressed.
And Jonah? Jonah just sort of … sat there. He looked like he needed to pass gas around a really pretty girl. I know this look. Jonah has a huge heart and is very sensitive. He reads the room extremely well and does not like to hurt other people’s feelings because he knows how he feels when his feelings are hurt. So instead, he tries to reveal nothing. And he sucks at that.
We spent a good five minutes encouraging him to say what was on his mind.
“Nothing, dad! It’s fine. It’s good. It’s fine.”
Uh-huh. Yeah. Sure.
Oh, there were other questions. When? For how long? Would he speak English? Was this really a good time for us to be doing this?
Dieudonne became a part of our household amidst chaos, grief and weariness. Objectively speaking, it wasn’t a good time for us to welcome a 4-year-old with medical issues who didn’t speak a word of English. Of course, waiting for a “good time” to tackle that challenge is much like saying, “We’ll have kids when we’re…
We adjourned the Family Meeting, and the boys went off to do whatever it was they were doing before the interruption. Carla and I just sort of stared at each other.
“What the hell was that?”
We knew the boys needed time. She and I had had a few months to marinade in the enormity of what we were about to do. The boys weren’t even aware we had submitted an application to become host parents. And besides, when our little dude arrived, they’d adjust. Right?
Fast forward a few months.
- D, who was used to sleeping around other people at home and, from what we understand, does not have an actual bed as us Americans know it, sleeps on the floor in Jonah’s room, sometimes crawling up to slumber next to him. Jonah, for the most part, loves this. (The only part he doesn’t love is that D is an early riser — and thinks Jonah should be too.)
- Joey cares for this kid like he’s his own son, though he is happy to hand him over if he poops (more on the diaper thing in another blog). He and his girlfriend, Div, play all sorts of games with D, goof around with him, tickle him, hug him and generally love him until D needs to get away from them. When they went to the zoo, it was Joey who took him out of the wagon and carried him around, up and down the hills, holding him high so he could see the animals over the railings. And let me just say, a 4-year-old with two full leg casts is heavy, especially as he’s fattened himself up on American food.
- Jonah recently was outside playing with some kids new to the cul-de-sac games. D was out there bee-bopping around like he does, One of the boys asked, “Who’s that kid?” Without hesitation, Jonah said, “He’s my brother.” No qualifications of “host brother” or “temporary brother.” Just brother.
- Joey absolutely revels in seeing Jonah get into trouble for the things he got in trouble for as a big brother and appreciates that it’s D who gives him this opportunity. I must have told Joey a million times to stop needling his brother, that if he knows what irritates Jonah and he does it anyway, even if what irritates Jonah is inconsequential in the big picture, he is responsible. Now, Jonah is the same way, doing things that irritate D when he knows that those things are going to irritate him, and I have the same response as I did back then. Joey thinks it’s freaking hilarious, and it is.
- Jonah welcomes D into every social situation. He hangs out the most with the three neighbor kids. Now, on most days, it’s the five of them, not just the four. He’s welcomed D into the cul-de-sac games, bike rides, games of Taboo (with adapted rules, of course) and ga-ga ball. Many times, they all make D the center of attention. It’s not going to be just us who are sad when D goes home. It’s going to be a cul-de-sac in mourning.
In short, we are a family, all five of us, plus our outliers. The boys’ initial hesitancy was overcome by this special little warrior with legs that needed a lot of work. There is genuine love between Joey and D, between Jonah and D.
Joey’s girlfriend, Div, recently was going over some words with D in French, the closest language to his native tongue. He steadfastly reserves the words “Mama” and “Papa” for the amazing couple waiting back home to hug him when he’s able to walk to them. I am “Da-da.” Carla is “Danti,” which we think might equate to “aunt.” Not sure.
But for Joey? For Jonah? D doesn’t hesitate a second.
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