I wrote some Thank You Notes to my children

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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!

Just a boy and a dream about a motorcycle

When I was very young – probably five or six – my Uncle Don had a motorcycle. One day, I got to ride that motorcycle. This is the same Uncle Don who was me when I saw The Empire Strikes Back for the first time, for those of you who are keeping score. I don’t remember if I asked or if it was offered, but I do remember climbing onto the bike and flying around their yard as Uncle Don took us for a lap or two around their house.

The more I think of it, the more I’m convinced that I was the one who came up with the idea and asked for a ride. I mean, come on. Who could say “no” to this adorable kid?

Me as a Ring Bearer at Aunt Patsy and Uncle Don's wedding

I mean, let’s be honest here. I was their favorite nephew at this point in my life. Of course, that might not be saying much. I might’ve still been their only nephew at that point, other than my brother. And since Kevin was so young at that point, I’ll just go ahead and announce that I was their favorite nephew. No need to take any votes or anything. Just look at that sweet, innocent face and tell me he wouldn’t be your favorite nephew, too.

Me and Vader

While the details of who came up with the idea might be a little bit fuzzy, I can tell you this: It was amazing. I know the rush that this guy felt. I was on Cloud Nine. In fact, I was still so excited about what had happened that I ambushed Grandmama when she arrived at their house. I told her everything about it.

Bzzzzzz!

Wrong answer.

I probably shouldn’t have said anything to Grandmama. She was not happy. And she let her son know about it. I still feel bad for getting Uncle Don in trouble with his momma. I hope he thought it was worth it. Because I sure did.

Fast forward some 35-ish years…

Weldu loves talking about driving. That really shouldn’t be a surprise. I mean, he’ll be turning sixteen soon. And while he talks about driving a car quite a bit, I get the impression that his real dream is to own a motorcycle. He’s even asked me to buy him one. Of course, he doesn’t want just any motorcycle. He wants the nice, shiny, super-expensive ones. My standard answer to that request?

“Get a job.”

Because that’s really the only way he’s going to be able to get any kind of bike like that. So he can add that to the list of things he wants to use his not-yet-existent income to pay for. He already has plans to by stuff like a new phone, but he’s also planning on living in Europe for a while and he’s planning a return trip to Ethiopia. And he wants to save up some money for that.

So he probably definitely isn’t getting a motorcycle any time soon. But that doesn’t mean he can’t dream about riding one. Right? And if he could ride one? Well, that would just be fantastic now, wouldn’t it?

Enter Uncle Don. Again.

While we were in Evansville over the weekend, we helped Uncle Don move some things into storage. While we were loading the trailer, I showed Weldu Uncle Don’s bike. I told him he should ask Uncle Don if he would take him for a ride after we were done moving everything.adjusting-weldus-motorcycle-helmet

It took a little coaxing, but he did eventually ask him. And when the moving was done, we grabbed a helmet for Weldu and away they went.

weldu-and-uncle-don-leaving-on-a-motorcycle weldu-and-uncle-don-after-their-motorcycle-ride

Considering the amount of grief Uncle Don got from Grandmama about my magical motorcycle ride, there was some discussion about whether to show Christy the pictures from the ride or not.

weldu-and-uncle-don-on-a-motorcycle

I’m not going to keep something like this a secret. Weldu needed to be able to share the excitement of this moment with his mom. So of course I told Christy about the whole thing.

Or did I…?

 

S is for Soccer

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S is for Soccer #AtoZChallenge #AtoZChallenge2016

When I kicked off this series as part of the 2016 A to Z Challenge (which is taking a month longer to complete than it should), I mentioned in the opening post that Ethiopians love their soccer.

So when a kid comes up to you and asks you to play soccer, you play soccer. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing your guard uniform or still working the front desk. If a kid asks you to play, you play. And that’s what happened one afternoon in the courtyard of our guesthouse. It was a pickup soccer game that I never thought I’d experience.

Soccer at the guest house #AtoZChallenge #AtoZChallenge2016
Manchester United FC

Of course Weldu’s friends love playing soccer. Several times a week, they’d play a pick-up game in a nearby alley in the shadow of some building construction. Two things I hope you notice…

    1. Note the scaffolding on the building in the background. It looks crazy, but I’m assuming it’s more sturdy than it looks to me.
    2. You see those two rocks stacked on top of each other? That’s one of the goalposts. The other is behind them.

Street Soccer Game in Addis #AtoZChallenge #AtoZChallenge2016
I didn’t grow up a soccer fan. I played one season in fourth or fifth grade (maybe sixth – I honestly don’t remember). I was not very good. And I never really showed much interest in the sport, other than the occasional World Cup game. That’s changed since Weldu has come home with us. It turns out both of us have a lot to learn. Playing an organized soccer game on an official pitch is quite different from the pickup games that he’s used to in Ethiopia. But that hasn’t dampened his passion for the game. He would eat, breathe, and sleep soccer if we’d let him. And he continues to hone his skills in anticipation of this Fall’s soccer season.

Weldu heading the ball in Addis

And me? I’m learning all the teams and terms and intricacies of the game that he loves. I’ve got a long way to go, but I know it’s worth it.

Because he is worth it.
Manchester United FC

H is for Habesha

H is for Habesha

He looked at my son, raised an eyebrow, and said,

“Habesha?”

Our son looked at the man, smiled, and quietly said “Yes.” They both smiled at each other as our family placed our order. We had just gotten off the plane at Dulles International Airport and passed through customs. Only minutes before, Weldu had taken his first steps onto a foreign land – one filled with people speaking a strange language with weird customs and white faces that all look the same – and officially became a US citizen.

In the midst of the the uncertainty of stepping into the unknown with his new family, Weldu found a brief reprieve. He was asked this question a few more times while we were in Dulles. Every time, there was a warm, but silent conversation between the two.

When we visited Ethiopia for the first time back in 2009, I don’t think I ever heard the term “Habesha.” We heard it all the time during our last trip a little more than two months ago. So what is Habesha? Habesha is a people-group that spans Eritrea and Ethiopia. Although approximately 15% of the population is not actually Habesha, it has become a term that is generally used for all Ethiopians and Eritreans. It’s basically a term of cultural pride, celebrating what unites their culture instead of dividing them by language and tribal group.

I think Weldu is still in shock about how many Habesha he met in the airport. It makes sense. Washington, DC, has a pretty significant Ethiopian population. But I think the mere mention of that word by someone else in the know made his arrival here in the States a little bit easier. In the midst of the craziness he had a small island of comfort, knowing there are other people here like him. And they recognized him as Habesha, too.

While I don’t think I’d never heard the word Habesha until a few months ago, I’m glad I did. Because that word has made a world of difference to my son.

And for that, I’m grateful.

D is for Dogs

This post may use affiliate links. Learn more in my Disclosure Policy.D is for Dogs

I think it’s safe to say that we’re a dog-obsessed culture. Sure, there are cat fans, too. So maybe I should say that we’re merely pet-obsessed. But come on. Dogs kind of take the cake. From labradoodles to chihuahuas to hound dogs and Salukis, we’re pretty big fans of dogs of all shapes, sizes, and shades. Right?

Not so in Ethiopia.

Dogs are not looked upon very favorably in many parts of Ethiopia. Many dogs are scavengers. Rabies is a concern. Dogs are generally treated with contempt. And sometimes they inspire fear.

When we were in the southern region of Ethiopia a few years ago, we had access to a satellite phone and tried to contact the kids back home. Christy was walking towards the front door to our guest house when our Guide stopped her. It was dark and he would not let her go outside. He wouldn’t even let her go out on the porch.

“No,” he said. “Dogs.”

And that was the end of the conversation. It sounded like packs of wild dogs (or maybe hyenas…or both) roamed the streets of this town, terrorizing its residents like some kind of biker gang.

When Weldu came home with us a few months ago, he wasn’t exactly excited to meet Bella. We tried to prepare him, giving him pictures and talking about how Bella likes to play and can get a little rowdy sometimes. I think we did a good job of giving him a heads-up about the dog that lives in our house. And he was prepared. He said he wasn’t scared. And he wasn’t. He might have been a bit hesitant at first, but now he probably plays with Bella more than any other family member.

Bella!

Bella feels like she’s part of the family a lot of the time. I know that’s a far cry from Weldu’s experience in Ethiopia. I’ve heard some horror stories of adopted children from Ethiopia that freaked out every time they saw their family’s dog. So it’s a huge relief to watch Weldu play with Bella in such a natural way.

March Madness with my Boys

Dove Men+Care sent me complimentary tickets to the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games in Louisville, KY. All thoughts and opinions expressed are 100% mine. You can learn more in my Disclosure Policy

Did you catch that? You might not have. And that’s OK. But it sticks out for me like a KY fan in a sea of Cream and Crimson. In case you did miss it, I’ll share it for you again…

” ‘I believe in you and I’m proud of you.’ …that’s the only thing you wanted your dad and your mom to say to you.” – Kevin Ollie

“What greater gift can you give someone than to legitimately care?” – Jim Calhoun

I love the way sports can bring people together. I love how being on a team and having a caring coach or teacher can make all the difference in the world. It’s no secret that my band director had a lasting impact on me. But I don’t want my kids to have to wait until a coach says “I’m proud of you” in order to hear someone say that. They need to hear it from me. Every day. And as we’re navigating the teenage years with three teenagers, I need to make sure I’m intentional about telling them how proud of them I am and how much I legitimately care. I need to keep working every day to improve the bond I have with my kids. I believe the bond between a dad and his kids is a display of real strength.

Real strength between father and son(s)

It’s a strange thing, the teenage years. And I’m not sure I would’ve successfully navigated them without the guidance of a great friend: my Dad. Growing up, we had many shared experiences. We even climbed a mountain together And although it doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, I love going fishing with my dad. Our shared experiences only strengthen the friendship we already have.

I only hope to have similar memories and bonds with my kids. So I knew exactly who I was going to take when I was offered tickets to see the men’s Regional action in Louisville.

Me and Aiden - March Madness 2016

I knew Aiden would be excited. He loves all things sports and is a big college basketball fan like his dad. We had a great time on Thursday, watching Villanova dismantle Miami and Kansas take over their game against Maryland in the second half. Aiden had been to a Division I men’s basketball game before, but that was 10 years ago. And I’m not even sure if he remembers it. So he was pretty excited to get to see not one, but two basketball games in one night. We had a fabulous time.

With Weldu at Elite Eight game

Weldu is a big soccer fan. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. He’s a huge soccer fan. So he was a little unsure about going to a basketball game because he had never really watched many basketball games. But I was  pretty sure he would enjoy the sights and sounds of the greatest tournament in all of college sports. Just in case, I decided to take him to the Elite Eight game instead of Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen games so he’d only have to tolerate one game if he was bored.

Since we were surrounded by Villanova fans, he quickly became a fan of Villanova, the “black” (I know they’re really “Navy,” but you try explaining that to a guy who’s only been in the US for a month and a half and you’re surrounded by screaming fans yelling “Let’s go, Nova!” clap, clap, clap-clap-clap. So we stuck with “black”) team. It was pretty exciting to be among the fans as they cheered their teem to victory and a trip to Houston.

Villanova fans at the 2016 Elite Eight game

I had a a great time with Weldu. And I’m pretty sure he had a good time, too. Actually, I know he had a good time because he talked my ear off during the whole 90+ minute ride home. It was an experience I’ll never forget and I hope he’ll always remember, too.

A weekend of firsts.

Not only was it Weldu’s first game and probably the first game that Aiden, but there were other firsts that happened during these two games.

  • It was our first time visiting the Yum! Center. Wow! What a facility! While it doesn’t ooze tradition like a Hinkle or Assembly Hall, it is a pretty impressive place.
  • It was my first time at an NCAA Tournament game. We’ve participated in events around the tournament, but these were my first games.
  • I met Nick and Creed for the first time. I’m not sure why we had to drive all the way to Louisville to finally meet in person since we live in the same region, but it was nice to finally put names and faces together in real life.
  • I finally got to hear the world-famous “Rock. Chalk. Jayhawk.” chant. I imagine it would sound pretty cool echoing through the halls of Phog Allen.

Rock…chalk. ..Jayhawk…K…U! #MarchMadness

A video posted by Matt Todd (@mattdantodd) on

It was an amazing experience. One that I won’t soon forget. And it’s one that has strengthened the bond between me and my boys. How could I ask for more?

Will you dance with us?

DSC06810
During our trip to Ethiopia, we dedicated Thursday as a day of celebration. The Transition Home where Weldu had lived hosted a goodbye coffee ceremony for him (and for us). And later that evening, we went to 2000 Habesha, an Ethiopian cultural restaurant. We had been to a similar restaurant when we brought Mihret home. And we had a great time. We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the end of all of the red tape and the fact that Weldu was really, truly, going to come home with us in just a few days!
The food was amazing, as one should expect. The dancing? Amazing. It was a great evening of celebrating with family and friends. Our hearts were as full as our bellies by the time the night was over.

Continue reading “Will you dance with us?”

A bittersweet goodbye

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This is most definitely a bittersweet post, to be sure…

Bittersweet Goodbye

I have mentioned it before and I’ll say it again today: serving as an Instructional Aide in a Special Education classroom for elementary students is a rewarding experience. A challenge? Sure. Exhausting? Absolutely. And some days, when it feels like you’re doing nothing but changing diapers and dealing with one behavior issue after another, But it’s a job that I loved from Day One.

autism sitesSo believe me when I say that it’s with a bittersweet spirit that I announce that I have tendered my resignation from the school. I am no longer working with those kiddos. I’m no longer spending the day in a room with some pretty amazing adults who will move heaven and earth to do what’s right for those kids. I was part of a pretty remarkable team. And I’ll certainly miss working with them every day.

So if I loved working in that classroom so much, why am I leaving?

Well that was the bitter part of this bittersweet post.  Now for the sweet…

I’m staying home.

After much discussion, prayer, and consideration, Christy and I have decided that I should stay home and help Weldu transition to his new life here in the States. I’ll still be working some evenings at the bookstore, but our son will be my focus. During this time, we’re going to be focusing on English and basic academic skills. Our current thought is that he’s going to enroll in high school for the Fall semester. Of course, he could say he’s ready to go to school after Spring Break.

Who knows?

I sure don’t. But we’re going to find out. And it’s going to be an adventure.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been involved in homeschooling. Christy did it a few years ago with one of our kids. Even so, the thought of doing this is exciting and frightening and exhilarating and worrisome all wrapped into one. But we firmly believe this is the best thing for Weldu at this time.

autism products

So I guess you could say that I’ve become a homeschooling dad. Six months ago, I would have laughed at the thought of me teaching my son. OK. Maybe I’m still laughing at the thought. Sometimes.

What’s the line? Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Right? Well that’s where we are. We’re taking the first steps of this new journey with Weldu as the two-plus-year adventure to bring Weldu home has finally come to a close.

So if you have any advice, tips, words of wisdom, or homeschool resources to pass along, I’m all ears.

It’s going to be a challenge, I’m sure. And I know it will be uncomfortable at times. And I’m positive there will be days where I wonder what on earth I’m doing.

But this kid?

He’s worth it.

 

Brothers and Superheroes

Mom Aiden and Weldu at Cultural Dinner celebration

I was driving Aiden to school one morning shortly after we had brought Mihret home from Ethiopia. I was a little shocked at the words that came out of his mouth.

When are you going to bring home a brother for me?

Uh…

I wasn’t sure how to answer that one.

I have to admit, I was a little taken aback. I mean, we had just brought Mihret home. And the transition wasn’t exactly going well. Truth is, we were still exhausted from the flight home and from the continual lack of sleep. How could he be thinking of adding another kid to our family already? As I thought about it, though, I understood. The balance of power had shifted. He was the only boy in our family. He was outnumbered. And I started to see his point. He needed a brother.

He had me convinced. All it took was that simple, innocent question.

Some six years later, we took Aiden with us as we flew to Ethiopia to bring his brother home with us. And it was one of the best decisions we could have made.

Two brothers playing soccer. I mean, football.

A photo posted by Matt Todd (@mattdantodd) on


Aiden and Weldu posing in front of a school

They became instant friends. In some ways, it’s almost like they’ve known each other for years. I mean….they even have their own secret handshake.

Hanging out during a flat tire

Weldu meeting Mihret

Weldu and Aly Aiden and Weldu - first meeting

Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero!

I think Marc Brown is right. Sometimes being a brother is better than being a superhero! It’s also pretty cool to have a brother. I know both from experience.

Todd family of SIX

You know, it’s taken far too long for us to be able to say this, but WELCOME HOME, WELDU! We’re excited to have you part of our crazy family. Our journey is really just beginning, but you’re already a pretty amazing brother. I now there will be some rough days in the future. That’s a given. Everyone goes through them – especially in the teenage years. But there will be some pretty amazing experiences we’ll have along the way, too. During the easy, happy times and the tough, sad times, I know this: we’re going to walk through them hand in hand.

Together.

As a family.

Because that’s what we are.

All six of us.