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.