When many people think of adoption, I suspect it is a kid like Messi they envision. From the day we picked him up at the orphanage in Ethiopia, he was ready to be part of our family. I credit this to his birth mom, whom he lived with until she died when he was two (his birth father died either right before or after he was born). He spent the first two years being a loved son and being part of a family. After his mom died, he lived with an aunt and uncle for a brief period, but they were unable to financially support him or provide medical care. He then went to an orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, run by Italian nuns. While orphanage life is far from ideal, he had a sweet temperament and it was obvious that he was a favorite of the nuns. When we went to pick him up, they told of stories of him sitting in the infant nursery and helping the nannies rock babies and give them bottles. He is a natural caregiver and after we returned to the United States, he quickly got over his complete terror of dogs and became their beloved boy and he became their caregiver (and boss). At the time, we had a dog named Nemo (as well as Max, who we still have). I vividly remember him stomping his foot and dictating to Nemo (whose name he couldn’t say, so it was Memo), “Memo, sit down, Memo, go to your bed, Memo eat your dinner”. While Bolt was initially very quiet (and is still not a huge talker), Messi was a talker from the beginning. Having lived with Italian nuns, he spoke a little Italian, in addition to Amharic, and had started learning a little English. He quickly picked up English because he was a little parrot and would repeat everything back. His transition to becoming our son was remarkably smooth and he has continued to be a pretty “easy” child to raise…talk to me again a few years when he is in the middle of his teenage years.
I call him Messi after his soccer hero, Argentine soccer star, Lionel Messi. If you spend any time with Messi, you may find that he has lots of interests and can have an intelligent conversation about most things, but his real love is playing soccer. He started playing a few months after he came home and has developed into an excellent player. He recently made his soccer club’s “A” travel team, a goal of his since our move two years ago. The wonderful thing about him is that he loves all practices and games and eagerly awaits both. He is a natural leader on the field and most of his best friends are his teammates. This summer he is excited to go to his first overnight camp, a soccer camp, of course.
Off the soccer field, Messi is loved by peers and adults alike. He is great with people and knows the names and interests of all his classmates. You can often hear him asking a girl about her ballet recital or another boy about his baseball game. He always tells his teachers goodbye and “have a nice day”. While being dyslexic has made school a little more challenging for him, he normally puts forward his best effort. I often remind him that he can’t be great at everything and that his social skills one of his greatest strengths.
Probably the most challenging thing about Messi is the insanely stubborn streak. If he doesn’t want to do something he will flat out refuse and there is no amount of rewards or punishments that are enough incentive for him to do something he has decided against. Of late, he has decided to put down his foot about attending church and every Sunday morning is a battle. The funny thing is that I don’t think that he dislikes church as much as he protests, but rather he has decided to be difficult about it and difficult he must remain.
Messi is very inquisitive and follows me around the house peppering me with questions. Google and I have become very good friends. He also loves to create things. He is an excellent cook and will normally make his own breakfast (or dictate to me what he likes, if he is in a hurry). No cereal for him, but rather an omelette with fresh tomatoes, basil and goat cheese or a snack of bruschetta with a balsalmic reduction on a baguette. He is also very helpful around this house and has a tool box to make small repairs. Just this week he finished refurbishing this beautiful garden bench.
Since his dad left, he has been hesitant to talk about it and insists he is doing okay. They still talk periodically and exchange texts or play video games online, but I think he misses the day to day companionship of having his dad just around. I am trying to give him the space to process a grieve in whatever way he needs. He is a delightful kid with a solid sense of himself, so he is doing what he needs to do to feel “safe” …whether that is listening to music or sitting up his room with the dogs or playing with friends or building a bench. Of late, he has become very helpful in making sure the house runs smoothly while I am working and helping his sitter keep up our routine. I was joking with him that he is now a “parent in training”. Seriously, though, he is a joy and is maturing into a responsible, empathetic, kind young man and patient brother.