Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Birthdays For Our Girls

In International Adoption one of the things people need to know going in is that birthdays are not always what they seem. When we got our girls we thought they were 3 years 10 months and 4 years 11 months. Why wouldn't we believe this. It was, after all, what was on their birth certificate.

But we have learned over the last three to four years that that is quite typical. Why?

For one, in a country such as Ethiopia many, many births take place in little grass huts where going to register a birth might not be feasible.

 A Home Like Our Girls Were Born In

Or perhaps losing the birth certificates, as our girls' mum stated she did. So then they are in a situation where they have to come up with birth certificates. Since these are not done the day the baby is born there is always the chance the information is not accurate.

In our case, we asked our birth mum numerous times if we had the girls' true birthdates. She stated that they were indeed the ages we had been told. We suspected that this was not so, as our girls had already told us that they were five and seven years old, upon pickup from the Transition House. At that time, Solomon Tsegay who worked for Imagine, told us that the girls were mixed up. We believed him.

When we came home one of our girls told us that her mother had told her that to be adopted they needed to be three or four years old...

But we still had no proof. Then one day we were fortunate enough to reconnect with our birth mum, and at this time she felt safe enough telling us the ages of the girls. It was as we suspected: she feared they would be rejected by the adopting family if she told their real ages. Thankfully, she believed that the girls were loved enough that their real ages didn't matter to us, and never had!

So now our girls will no longer have birthdays in September and November, but instead, in June and July! They are also 2.5 years older than we thought.

This does complicate things slightly because on paper they are legally 6 and 7, but in real life we call them 7 and 8, and actually they are 8.5 and 9.5. How crazy is that!

Many people have chosen to keep their childrens' paper ages but we didn't because it didn't make sense. Raine was clearly older than 7 years old, and Savannah was about 8" taller than Briton and growing in leaps and bounds. So we gave them each one extra year.

This way when it is time to get their driver's licenses they will be held up by one year, rather than two, and that could pose a real problem for them when they have to wait til their paperwork says they are 16, when in actuality they are already 18.5!!! So one year up works for us.

There is a factor that you might not expect and that is what the other kids think. In Ontario they are very strict about birth order adoptions. I believe it is that you have to adopt under your youngest child. I never understood that until now. But at the same time, I think, "But what about the children you are adopting. They are losing their birth order!" That is significant.

When we first told the kids that we were adopting the girls, we told them how old they were. Raine would be 9 months younger than Cooper, and Savannah would be 2 months older than Briton. When the girls arrived we realized we were probably wrong. I knew from Cooper's personality that it would be an adjustment. I didn't tell him right away. When I did finally tell him tears welled up in his eyes. He liked the idea of being the big brother. We sat on it for a while, and then finally moved her forward a year, putting her 3 months older than him. He was okay with that; she was his twin.

With Briton, Savannah was always his twin. She was two months older than him. But for the longest time this didn't seem right. We knew she was older than him. Finally when we got proof that she was not just one year older than him, but 2.5 years, we knew we needed to advance her a little bit. We had been preparing her for this for a while, talking about ages. She knew that Raine had had her 5th birthday when she arrived in Canada, and then a year later, she had celebrated her 7th birthday. So it wasn't a big surprise to Savannah when I told her one day that she was seven.

The unfortunate thing was that Briton was walking by at that particular moment. This is the child that is the *end* of the birthday train. Well, it depends on how you look at it. His birthday is in January. BUT the kids that he hangs with have birthdays from end of the September, to November, to two in December, and then it is finally his birthday in January. That was always hard enough - watching four birthdays go by and waiting forever for his.

But then that day when he walked by and overheard me talking to Savannah I heard a little squeaky, "Huh?" of complete surprise and disbelief.

He couldn't use enough words to explain what he was saying, but the gist of it was, "Savannah's five. Her didn't have six. Now her's seven. That's not fair!"

No kidding. It probably didn't seem fair! We sure didn't tell him that she was really eight! (grin) He would have really thought that wasn't fair. How on earth does someone go from five to seven overnight?! Especially when *he* knows how long it takes for him to wait to turn one year older! (laugh)

He did eventually settle into the fact that she was indeed older than him. And then it was time for Cooper. We hadn't told him at the time we discovered the girls' ages about Raine. Somehow it slipped my mind. I guess because I had always known she was older. Well, one day I accidentally mentioned Raine as being 9.5 (which she is well aware of) and Cooper was shocked. Okay, here we go again. (laugh)

We let him chew it over for a little while. I left it alone. After all, we did already call her eight, and he had just turned eight, so it was fine. But we had always written the kids names in age order as Cooper, Raine, Savannah, and Briton. I had yet to change this, as it wasn't really fair to Raine. Soon...

Then tonight, while Briton was doing his prayers, he was listing off the people in the family one by one. He would say a name and then pray for one in particular. Then the next. After he did Austin he paused. Then from the top bunk I heard, "Cooper or Raine is next." (I wonder why it was "or"? lol) He immediately followed this with, "Do Raine first. She's older than me."

I was so proud of him. The transition has been made. My kids are not whiners, so I can really see why 'birth order' really does carry some importance with it! My suggestion is to be sensitive to the children you already have if you find your adopted children are not the ages you thought they were, thus upsetting the age order you thought you had! Take your time and let them adjust naturally.

And now, without further ado. Here is Raine's "8th" and Savannah's "6th" birthday party.

Cooper and His Now Officially Big Sister, Raine.



VandD said...

That is so, so interesting. When you first brought the girls home, I, too, also sort of thought they seemed/looked older than they really were.

Glad to hear you got it sorted out!


Linda said...

Wow now a lot of things make more sense, they were growing in such leaps and bounds. It must be very confusing for the children to understand but like always you handled it beautifully.

Still trying to figure how to navigate your new blog. How is your Mom?

Jessica Hanson said...

I adore your family, just so you know....My husband and I both have felt a burden for Africa for a couple of years. We are working on paying off and fixing up our house, so that within the next few years we are able to start the adoption process.

I love hearing your stories. Thank you for sharing them with me!