Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 15, 2013

All for love: Two families adopt siblings from Ethiopia

By JENNIFER MEIER
CORRESPONDENT

GOSHEN — In May of last year, The Goshen News reported on two Goshen couples who began the process to adopt four siblings from Ethiopia. By the end of August 2012 the Miller and the Mounsithiraj FAMILIES welcomed Kaleb, Meron, Kayin and Luke into their homes.

The Millers

Older children help welcome twin brother, sister into Miller family

It’s been six months since the Miller family adopted 5-year-old Ethiopian twins Meron and Kayin into their family of eight.

Their biological children Johnathon, David, Nolan, Sethan, Moriah and Baleigh, ranging in ages from 11 to 19, had been urging their parents, Kathleen and Shawn to adopt for more than a year.

There were really no worries in Kathleen’s mind that once the novelty of having two new siblings around wore off the older children would leave all the responsibilities to the parents.

“Having older kids has been a big blessing,” Kathleen said. “They’ve welcomed them, pitched in, nurtured and even shared their beds in the middle of the night when things got a bit overwhelming for one of the twins.”

Kathleen finds the nurturing and patience she sees expressed daily a source for great gratitude.

“I still get goosebumps when I see it,” she said. “Their hearts were prepared. They had a passion.”

This is not to say the journey has been easy.

In their native country, both the twins were woken up from a nap to meet their new parents for the first time. The boy, Kayin, was immediately very affectionate and accepting. His sister Meron was not.

“She was scared out of her mind. She was screaming,” Kathleen said. “I couldn’t even hold her. It was very, very difficult.”

But the couple knew it was temporary. Meron came around slowly. During their last week in Ethiopia, both couples had to live for a week with their new family in a hotel while the adoption was finalized.

“It was part of the process, but it was hard to be normal in that environment,” Kathleen said. “We really couldn’t communicate.”

The Millers said they learned a few words like food, bathroom and sleep in the native language Amharik and used hand signals to get messages across.

“That was not what you needed to parent well,” Kathleen said. “I mean this was an enormous transition for them. I know they had intense feelings and questions. I wish we could have communicated better at that time — and during the awful 32-hour trip home.”

Back home, Kathleen said, among their new brothers and sisters, the twins switched over to English pretty quickly. And they seem to be thriving in their new environment.

They love their new surroundings, especially the snow and they love and are affectionate with their new siblings and parents. But the transition has not been entirely smooth. At just 5-years-old Meron, the more vocal of the two, has deep memories of Ethiopia.

“She pretends to talk on the phone to her birth mother,” Kathleen said. “She tells her she has food now and that she is clean. She asks me questions. I can’t answer everything, but I really encourage those conversations.”

And then there was the evening that Meron realized she was not going back to Ethiopia.

“She got very quiet and than began to cry,” Kathleen said. “It was a very tough evening. It’s not all hunky-dory. We all have had to sacrifice — to give up things.”

The rewards, however, make the whole experience worthwhile.

“It changes your priorities and perspective. This is really a redemptive process. You don’t walk out the same,” Kathleen said. “For a believer, the joys, the lessons, the blessings are amazing. I would do it all over again.”

The bond that the Miller family has formed is very evident to Kathleen.

“They are flesh and blood to me at this point,” she said. “We can be out at the store and I notice everyone is looking at us and I wonder why. But I really feel they are mine. They just don’t look different to me anymore.”

The Mounsithiraj family

Newest Mounsithiraj siblings learn more about American life each day

The solemn looking 2-year-old Luke’s first picture with his adopted family showed exactly what he was feeling.

“The first time we met he was so shy and cautious,” said his mom Jean Mounsithiraj. “But during the last hours there in Ethiopia, he put a toy on his head, looked up at me and giggled. He really opened up.”

For his 7-year-old brother Kaleb, the transition was a bit easier — at first.

“They come from a very affectionate culture,” Jean said. “I think he was used to being the caregiver for his younger brothers and sister. He’s the devoted one. He shares all that he has and makes sure everyone has what they need.”

And now Kaleb is learning how to be a kid again.

“It’s eye-opening to see our world through new eyes. They are fascinated with everything,” Jean said. “I remember the water fountain in the airport. They could have spent hours playing with that!”

Moving from a lifestyle where food was not plentiful and surroundings were unsanitary to a home where every need is met was a welcome adjustment for the brothers. The Mounsithirajes have four biological children: Tyler, 16; Annie, 13; Katie, 11 and Molly, 8.

“Well there’s a lot more noise and activity,” said Jean, who home schools all the children. “The older kids have been very welcoming. They just put down whatever they are doing to help out. And they’ve had to give up some privacy — but they are acting like genuine big brothers and sisters.”

The language barrier was the biggest obstacle in the early months.

“Kaleb knew no English that first week. By the third week he knew a handful of words,” Jean said. “By the third month, he was very understandable. Now he is always asking what phrases mean. Some things are just so hard to explain.”

One day he found an ankle bracelet that belonged to one of the girls and wanted to keep it for himself.

“I said, ‘I think that actually belongs to Molly,’” Jean told him. “He wanted to know what ‘actually’ meant. How do you define that to someone with a vocabulary of about 10 words? For awhile he wore it and called it ‘actually.’”

And while Luke is still learning to talk, Jean and Thavisith say he understands everything.

“Now we hear the laughter and see the smiles where he used to walk around in a daze,” Thavisith said. “Even an occasional disagreement was welcoming! He comes alive watching Kaleb discover things.”

Learning that food would always be available when they were hungry was also an adjustment.

“At first they would stuff themselves and eat as quickly as they could,” Jean said. “It’s so much better now. Kaleb loves spicy food. He even put hot sauce on his oatmeal one morning.”

Both the boys love the snow and Kaleb wants to be outside all the time. One afternoon, after several hours, he taught himself how to ride a bike. And once inside, he often fills the room with his singing and dancing.

Each evening they gather and tell stories about their day. Thavisith is amazed at all the boys have been through.

“These are strong and brave kids,” he said. “They are still trying to wrap their brains around everything that is going on. Kaleb still has a strong connection to his past and his family.”

From the time they decided to adopt until the brothers were in their new home in Goshen, Thavisith feels has been an amazing experience.

“They came from half way around the world — and here they are in this small community,” Thavisith said. “At times we didn’t know how it would happen. It feels like a miracle — like a good pain in my heart.”

After saying a prayer each night, Thavisith will often hold one of the boys.

“I just can’t imagine that a child who is so different from you, can create so much love in your heart that they feel like your own kids,” Thavisith said. “Even on the hardest day, I can’t imagine not being with them. They are a perfect fit with our family.”

The four siblings see each other on Sundays at church and both families have made time to get together to keep the family bond strong.