Dear children, thanks for making me Dad

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An Open Letter to my Children #ThanksBaby #ad

It has been said that when a baby is born, a dad is born. Pampers believes that is true. That’s why this Father’s Day, and every day, they’re thanking babies for empowering Dad and empowering him to discover new roles as he journeys through this thing called Fatherhood.

That’s definitely true for me.

I had helped out at our church’s day care when I was in high school. I had also served in another church’s nursery shortly after Christy and I had gotten married. I’d even helped babysit some young children over the years. But when my son was born, everything changed.

Because being Dad isn’t babysitting. It’s not even close.

Me with the Kids #ThanksBaby #ad

When I held my son for the first time, my world changed. I had been warned that it would change, but I had no idea how much it would actually change. It’s unbelievable. You’re holding this little, tiny, itty-bitty human being and nothing else matters. Nothing. You’re responsible for everything. This baby is relying on you. Of course, mom’s part of the story, too. We’ve been partners in this journey since Day One. But when it hits you that you’re actually a Dad, it’s an overwhelming realization. It’s a beautiful thing. And it’s a scary proposition, too. You certainly become a new man when a child becomes part of your family.

Every one of our children has a completely different story about how they came into our family. And each journey has changed my life forever. For that, I’m grateful. So I’ve decided to write a brief note to each of them.

Dear Aiden,

Me and Aiden #ThanksBaby #ad

As the firstborn, you are the trailblazer. Everything is new. And I’m sure I’ve screwed up a lot over the years (still kicking myself for making you cry when I was coaching you on the baseball field).  And let’s not talk about the first time I changed a diaper. Let’s just say it was a comedy of errors.

I’m thankful that we’re blazing this trail together. I see your desire to help others, your natural leadership ability (on the field, at church, and in life in general), and your desire to make a difference with your life, and my heart explodes with pride, joy, and excitement. You’re going to do great things, my boy. In fact, you already are.

Even though we might disagree about which episode of Star Wars is the best.

Love,
Dad

Dear Weldu,

Me and Weldu #ThanksBaby #ad

I’m thankful that you joined our family last year. You filled the empty chair at our dining room table. You have made our family complete. Thank you.

I am proud to call you my son. I am excited to see you use your athletic gifts to the best of your ability, taking advantage of the opportunities that are before you.  Your English continues to improve and you are going to do great things wherever you are.

I may not be the biggest fan of soccer, but I’m your biggest fan. So I will continue to go to your games, even though I have no idea what’s going on half the time. Because you are worth it.

You always will be.

Love,
Dad

Dear Aly,

Me and Aly #ThanksBaby #ad

Oh, Aly.

Where do I begin?

You have always marched to the beat of your own drummer. I think you cried for the first 6 months, simply because you wanted to. That’s why some of our extended family still calls you “Waah-ly.” Thanks for growing out of that. Seriously.

Your love for animals, especially dogs and horses, is infectious. You have the biggest heart for others that I’ve ever seen. Ever. And your artistic ability? Mind-blowing. You certainly have an eye for photography.

Thank you for reminding me to explore new things and to make the most of every opportunity I have. You are our free spirit. But I hope you realize that wherever you go and whatever you do, you will always have a home right here in my heart.

Love,
Dad

Dear Mihret,

Me and Mihret #ThanksBaby #ad

You opened my heart, helping me realize that family is so much more than just blood. When it was time to leave you that first day, I had to put you back in your crib and go back to our Guest House. You cried when I put you down. It took all that was within me not to reach back down, scoop you out of your bed, and promise you that I will never ever leave you again. Ever. You broke my heart that day, but your smile makes my heart grow every time I see it.

You are the most determined little girl I’ve ever met. I think you’re the most determined little girl anyone has met.  And you have such a joy for life that it’s absolutely contagious. Thank you for challenging me with your determination. When you keep on pushing, never accepting “no” for an answer, you encourage me to have that same fighting spirit. You light up the room with your smile. And that laugh of yours? It just makes everything better. Thank you for being you and for inspiring everyone around you. You certainly inspire me.

Love,
Dad

None of my children are babies anymore, but I’m still grateful that each one of them call me Dad. It’s an honor that I do not take lightly.

I’m also thankful for companies like Pampers, who honor dads for simply being dads. They recognize dads for all of the amazing things they do – both big and small – to help little ones have a better, loving, and more fulfilling life.

OK. Now it’s your turn.

What do you have to say to your baby? What are you thankful for?

Share your gratitude on twitter by using the #ThanksBaby hashtag!

Our lives changed after we took this picture 5 years ago

We took this picture five years ago today. It was the last time we were together as a family of four.

Outside Indianapolis International Airport before flying to Ethiopia.

A few minutes after this, the kids drove off with their Papaw. Soon after that, Christy and I boarded a plane. Our ultimate destination was a Little Girl in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Flying over Egypt

Five years ago today, we were ending one leg of our family’s journey.

Five years ago today, we were starting another leg of our family’s journey.

Five years ago…

Wow.

How has it already been five years since we went from being a family of four to a family of five?

Our first picture as a family of five. Taken at the Indianapolis International Airport

It couldn’t have happened without the prayer and support of some pretty amazing friends and family who were with us throughout the process. And it certainly couldn’t have happened without family members taking care of Aiden and Alyson, trying to do whatever possible to keep their lives as close to normal as possible while their mom and dad were half a world away. To anyone and everyone who had some part in our journey to bring Mihret into our family, I want to say “Thank you” again. Thank you for allowing God to use you and to weave your story into our family’s story.

Because we can’t imagine our family without Mihret.

Family picture at the 2013 Show Hope Celebration in Franklin Tennessee

I bet you can’t, either.

The kids holding a sign that says

Happy Birthday, Mihret!

You’ve been counting down the days for what seems like the last month. And now the day is finally here! You’re such a big girl!

You’ll always be my Little Girl, though.

Happy birthday!

The Day We Met Mihret (3 Years Later)

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, September 18, 2009

I had stared at her picture for countless hours during the previous months. I scoured photos from other families’ trips to Ethiopia, hoping to catch another glimpse of her. I showed what few photos I had of her to whomever I could, just like any proud papa would.

Our daughter while she was in the Care Center in Ethiopia

We prayed for her continually.

We had talked to several doctors about what health and developmental concerns they might have about her. I even got to see a CT scan of her brain. We knew a lot about her.

But it didn’t feel “real” until we walked into the Nursery at the Care Center in Addis Ababa and could actually hold, hug, kiss, and cuddle our Little Girl.

Mommy & Mihret for the first time

Daddy & Mihret for the first time

I can’t even begin to express all the emotions I felt that day. Just like any new parent, there’s  a whole lot of joy and excitement mixed together with uncertainty, confusion, and maybe even a little bit of fear. There’s also a great deal of sadness because adoption, by definition, involves some kind of painful loss. Throw in the exhaustion brought about by a recent flight halfway around the world…well…let’s just say that I was an emotional wreck. I think it’s safe to say that all of us were.

I’ll never forget that day when I finally saw her face to face. She had no idea who I was, but I knew exactly who she was. She was my Little Girl.

And she always will be.

Long Week

Sunday morning, we woke up and pondered what amazing milkshakes we’d be having on our maiden voyage to Ivanhoe’s after dropping Aly off at horse camp (I had the Trojan Three, by the way). My, how things change.

http://twitter.com/#!/mattdantodd/status/85180671554895873

Because of the nature of the drugs they gave Mihret to get the seizures to stop, we’ve spent the last week in the Pediatric ICU at Riley North. I don’t want to publicly dwell on the details, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been as scared for one of my children as I was Sunday night when they couldn’t get her seizure to stop. Not even when another one of our children fell down the stairs at my parents’ house with a nightlight in her mouth.

Oh – I haven’t shared that one? Well, I will someday.

But not today.

I’m gonna go hug my Little Girl a little bit and celebrate the fact that she’s home (even though she’s probably at about 85% of her normal status).

You never know what the day may bring. So hug and kiss your kids every day. Even when they don’t want you to. I’m gonna. I hope you do, too.

Show Hope

As part of Mihret’s third birthday celebration last month, we had the opportunity to volunteer at a ShowHope booth for A Night with the Chapmans. Both ShowHope and the Chapmans have a very special part in our adoption journey to bring Mihret home.

Last Summer, we received the unexpected news that we would be bringing Mihret home much sooner than we’d initially thought.  At the same time,  The fees and travel expenses we knew were eventually coming were needed much, much sooner than we’d planned.

And we didn’t have the money. At all.

When we came to this realization, we were crushed. How were we ever going to be able to make this work? I must confess, I began to panic just a bit. I didn’t have any answers.

A few days later, we received a letter from ShowHope, informing us that we had received an adoption grant from them. And it covered the rest of the fees and the plane tickets. The date on the letter? The same date that we found out we had passed court in Ethiopia!

I’ve heard all kinds of adoption stories about how God provides. I half-heartedly wrote them off by saying to myself, “Yeah, yeah. I know God provides. And that’s what you’re supposed to say in this situation.” To me, it had become the expected Sunday School answer, just like how “Moses” or “Elijah” are always the answers to Old Testament questions and “Jesus” or “Paul” are the go-to answers for New Testament questions. But this was no fluke. This was no Sunday School answer that everyone expects to hear. I am convinced that God moved this mountain before we even knew it was in our way. And our family is grateful to the people who work with and support ShowHope for allowing God use them as an instrument of His grace, love, and provision.

So we were excited to be able to spend the evening helping at the  ShowHope booth at the Capmans’ concert. It was just a small, tiny-tiny way we could help give back to them. And the Chapmans’ passion for orphan care and adoption is contagious. I remember thinking that the last time we saw them live at Anderson University. In early October. 2007. That’s three years ago, in case you’re having trouble with the math. You do remember who celebrated her third birthday in early October – right?

Who would’ve known that while we were listening to Steven Curtis Chapman sing When Love Takes You In that our Little Girl had just been born half a world away?

One Year Ago Today…

We received the phone call a year ago today.

The one that would change our lives forever and send us on a journey to bring our beautiful Little Girl home with us.

What an amazing roller coaster it has been this year! And it’s only just beginning.

Taking Custody

Moments after taking custody of our Little Girl

Monday (9/21)

The drive back to Addis from Durame lasted entirely too long.

We toured a medical facility that is supported by our agency. We also had the opportunity to stop and take pictures of Mihret’s actual birth-village.

But the drive back to Addis from Durame still lasted entirely too long.

Because we knew that when we returned to Addis, we’d take custody of our children. The long-awaited moment was finally at hand. We just had to wait through the drive back to the city.

When we finally got back to our hotel, we went over to the Care Center. The children were having their baths and the nannies had redone Mihret’s hair. We watched as they bathed and dried her one last time. She had been at the Center for a long time and it was obvious that the nannies loved her. We brought some pajamas for her to wear to the hotel. The nannies gladly dressed her in her new outfit.

It was tough watching them say goodbye to our Little Girl. They’d loved her for so long. I’m sure they were happy that she has a forever family, but it was also difficult for them to let her go. One of the nannies held her one last time and she was fighting back tears.

Chaio,” she finally managed to say.

And she handed Mihret back to us for the final time. We did our best to express our heartfelt gratitude to the nannies who cared so much for our daughter. I hope they understood – even with the language barrier. And we walked out the room and closed the door.

She was finally ours!

First Meeting

Entrance to the Care Center
Entrance to the Care Center

Now that a lot of the basic information about our journey to Ethiopia has been shared, I want to go back and share some more details about specific days. We’ll see how this goes…

Friday (9/18) morning, we visited our adoption agency’s main Ethiopia office. In addition to finalizing paperwork, we also got a crash course in Amharic, the country’s official language. There are over 80 different languages and dialects used in this diverse country, but Amharic is the language of choice in Addis. We learned words like “good” and “beautiful” and “thank you,” although it took most of us in the travel group several days to remember how to say thank you. Fortunately, we discovered that clasping your hands together (like in prayer) and slightly bowing your head does communicate gratitude as you try to stumble through the word you just can’t quite remember.

When I was about to get out of the van, I turned around and took this picture of Christy.
When I was about to get out of the van, I turned around and took this picture of Christy. This was when it hit us that this thing was actually REALLY happening.

We piled into the two vans and drove back to the hotel. Although, this time we didn’t stop at the hotel. We went to the Care Center, which was immediately adjacent to our hotel. This was it. It was the moment we’d dreamed about and prayed for since we took the first real steps of this journey almost a year ago (our hearts had been preparing for this moment for a much longer time than that). And now it was finally here. I think it all felt rather surreal – until the van stopped, the doors opened, and it was time to get out and go inside to actually meet our children.

For the health & safety of the children, everyone had to remove their shoes and put on slippers. Thats a lot of shoes!
For the health & safety of the children, everyone had to remove their shoes and put on slippers. That's a lot of shoes!

The Center was nothing like I’d expected. I’m not entirely sure what I expected, but I know it wasn’t like this. I guess I envisioned a small shack-like building with maybe three rooms total. It wasn’t like that at all. The Center is much larger, more colorful, and cleaner than I’d seen in my mind’s eye. And I can’t say enough about the staff that cares for these children. They love them. It’s obvious. The love these children. If you want to see a few more pictures from the Center, slip on over to Our Adoption Journey and check out the Hutchison family’s perspective. While we had hoped to be in the same travel group with them, we wound up missing each other by two weeks.

They gave us a quick tour of the facility and I don’t really remember much. I was more concerned about meeting our Little Mihret. They told us that at the end of the tour, we’d have to figure out which one was the child we’d been waiting for over the past long, agonizing months.

She wasn’t there.

We figured out later that none of the children whose parents were in our Travel Group were in their rooms. They had them hidden away somewhere (how sneaky ;)). So, we went through the rest of the tour, anxious to return to the room and finally meet our Little Girl!

And when we saw her for the first time, there was absolutely no doubt that this was our Little Girl!

Christy gave her to me and she fell asleep again. This time in my arms. It had been a long time since a baby fell asleep in my arms.
Christy gave her to me and she fell asleep again. This time in my arms. It had been a long time since a baby fell asleep in my arms.

Christy got to hold her first. I shared those pictures earlier. You can see them here. Mihret was rather unresponsive, as we expected. She was pretty clueless to what was going on. She is only two, after all. Within ten minutes of Christy picking her up, Mihret fell asleep in her arms. While we wanted to play with her and get to know her, at least she wasn’t screaming her lungs out whenever we tried to hold her. It was also touching to know she was comfortable enough with her new mom that she could fall asleep so quickly. Later on that day, we wondered how many times she’d actually fallen asleep in someone’s arms in the recent past. Like I said earlier, the staff at the facility loves these children. But there’s only so much one-on-one attention you can get in an institution like that – even with a fabulous group of caretakers.

Lunch time
Lunch time!

We arrived shortly before lunch time. While Christy was holding Mihret again, one of the nannies pulled up a chair and motioned for Christy to sit down. We tried to feed her for the first time.

Yeah.

That didn’t go so well.

She fought each bite Christy tried to give her. The nanny stepped in and tried to get her to eat. No dice.

We discovered that we might have another strong-willed child on our hands. She’s mellowed out quite a bit when it comes to food. In fact, she loves to eat. Most of the time. Every once in a while that temper still comes through, though.

We left the facility shortly before the kids’ nap time. Although we knew we’d see her again shortly, it was still very difficult to leave. Mihret didn’t help matters very much. She cried when we put her down in the crib. She didn’t want us to leave. You could argue that it’s comforting that she didn’t want us to leave. And that’s true. But we had to leave. And none of us wanted that to happen, to be quite honest.

But we knew that the day was coming very soon where we wouldn’t have to leave her like that again.

Welcome Home, Mihret!

I have no idea how I’ll be able to put our journey to Ethiopia into words. But I’m sure gonna try over the next few weeks. As I shared with our congregation Sunday morning, it was joyful, heartbreaking, humbling, and just about every other feeling along the emotional spectrum.

In the meantime, I figure I should share some pictures while I try to find the words that sum up our experience.

Final Picture of the Todds as a Family of Four


First Meeting