The Age Conundrum


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So, if you’ve asked us in the last 7 months how old our adopted kids are, you may have received varying answers depending on what week or month it was. In August we would have just looked confused and begun the long tale for you. In September we might have simply told you they were 4 and 2. And in October, 5 and 3. Now we typically we say they are 5 and 2. But I guess eventually we’ll be back to 5 and 3, because that’s technically how old they are. Only probably not.

Confused yet? Join the club.

See, back in February after we had decided to adopt the kids, we had only my brief time with them to go on, and I based their ages on their sizes and thought them to be about 4 and 2. But in April we received an email that included their birthdates, both April, 2008 and 2010 respectively. This would make Eva 3 months older than Reagan and Titus 1 month younger than Charlotte. Weird, I thought, they didn’t seem to be quite that old. But there was nothing we could do about that, and we began to adjust to the thought of having two 5 year olds and two 3 year olds. We went ahead with school plans accordingly, enrolling Eva in Kindergarten and Titus in a 3 year old preschool class.

Now let’s talk about the BIG BIRTH-ORDER NO-NO we were committing. If you don’t know anything about adoption, you don’t know what I’m talking about, but believe me, it’s in all-caps for a reason. People are freaked out about birth-order. I was freaked out about birth order. According to the experts, the ones who have written the books, you should NOT adopt out of birth order. We were already going against the rules by adopting Eva, who would be older than Charlie, but now we find out that she would be older than the oldest and that is simply not done.

We weren’t changing our minds about the adoption or anything, but this news definitely freaked me out a little. Were we going to completely wreck Reagan by adopting a little girl who would take her place as oldest? Would there be constant tension between these two, fighting for that position? In the end I supposed we’d just have to deal with the fall out. But I was definitely nervous about it.

Can I be real with you for a minute? I think, in retrospect, that this birth-order obsession is dangerous, selfish and harmful to the cause of adoption.

Please hear me out. I think that the whole “kids have certain tendencies based on their birth order” concept is valid. Firstborns tend to be a certain way, depending on their gender, and middle children, and youngest, and so on and so forth. Just listen in on a conversation between moms about their children and you’ll hear things like “Mine does that TOO! Do you think it’s because they’re both oldest?”

BUT, when we let such modern, secular concepts dictate our care for those in need, we should wake up and take notice. The call is to care for the orphan and widow, not to care for the one who most conveniently fits into my specific plans. We ought not to fear such things as “messing up birth order.” I believe that the God we serve is quite a bit bigger than such issues. And is able to handle them easily. And, I might add, it is yet one more thing that drives me to my knees in prayer. Lord, help Reagan and Eva. They are both the oldest. Help them to co-exist. Give me wisdom when it’s challenging.

Please don’t hear what I’m NOT saying. I don’t think birth order is irrelevant or unimportant. I think it’s legitimate to consider it, especially with large age gaps. And there are other factors, too, such as where a child has been and what they’ve experienced. This may make it unsafe to adopt an older child. All I’m saying is that it is good to ask, “What am I holding tightly too? Am I placing my preferences or my comfort above God’s calling and His power to care for our family?”

So, back to our particular issue. We went into our trip to Uganda with the assumption that we’d be bringing back this 5 and 3 year old. But in no time at all we were really questioning this. For one thing, they were both so very small. But this could be explained, we supposed, by malnutrition, and ethnicity. After all, most of the people we met there were not overly tall or big, so that could have something to do with it. But, more than that, they seemed to be developmentally behind. It was especially clear that Titus could not possibly be 3. He was barely 2 in my estimation. And in the end his age, at least, was confirmed by his birth mother, who told us he was definitely 2. But to try to change it in the Ugandan system would either extend our stay indefinitely or force us to go home without the kids and come back for them when it had all been sorted out. I know that sounds crazy to your American ears but if you had been through their court system you would not be surprised by that. So, of course, we didn’t even consider this as an option.

Why on earth were their ages so off? This was my question and it is probably yours after reading all of this. But again, it is just so hard for us to imagine because all we know is the way we do things. And we live in the most developed society in the world. And we are given birth certificates THE DAY WE ARE BORN. And it’s virtually impossible for your age to just slip through the cracks.

Most children there are born without the aide of a doctor. There is no record-keeping involved in this. I’m sure many of the mothers know the birthdays of their own children, but it’s not entered into a computer or a system or anything. In the case of our own children, we think (we do not know, this is definitely conjecture) that when their grandmother brought them to the orphanage, she gave them birth dates that were incorrect because she didn’t know the dates herself.

Well, without the option of getting things fixed there in Kampala, Josh and I began to talk about changing their ages when we got back. I had heard of this being done, and we decided that, if possible, we would simply move their birthdays forward a year each, making them 4 and 2. We also went ahead and emailed the schools and reserved spots for them in younger classes. So we came home fairly confident that we were back to the 5,4,3,2 game plan we had started with.

Wrong. Guess what? We couldn’t change their ages. I won’t go into the very long legal reason for this but it just simply isn’t done much anymore. It has to do with immigration and homeland security and all sorts of other things. SO. We were back to 5 and 3. But thinking this was probably wrong for Eva and knowing for certain it was wrong for Titus, we had unexpected decisions to make.

This actually turned out to be really good for me. Already this adoption had exposed my attachment to my plans for the future, and once again my expectations for how the future would go were shaken. I found myself worrying a lot about what we would do. We knew Eva wasn’t ready for kindergarten and yet waiting another year meant she’d be behind a grade for her age, a year behind Reagan. So she’d be older than Reagan but behind her in school. Then we discovered that VPK would not be covered because Eva is 5 and kids must be 4 to qualify. We tried, in vain, to find some loop-hole or exception to this. There wasn’t one. So now we either had to pay for it out of pocket or keep her home. And then in a couple years face the same issue with Titus all over again.

The reason this was so good for me is it forced me back to that question I’d been asking since we’d felt called to this adoption. What’s really important here?! I can tell you right now, the answer is NOT that my kids be exactly the right age for the grade they’re in. And yet we become obsessed with these sorts of things as parents, especially here in the states. I was forced to remember where my kids had come from and just calm down. It was ok that Reagan and Eva would have issues as joint-eldest in the family. It was ok that Eva and Titus would be older than everyone in their grade. It was ok that things weren’t perfect. There were, there are, more important things at stake than everything being smooth and seamless with my kids.

And once I began to let that go I embraced all the good that can come from this. It was a conversation starter ever time someone asked, “How old are the kids?” Because I could tell their incredible story. The story of how these 2 came from having no certainty at all, even about their own birth, to being a part of a family. I cannot wait to celebrate these kids birthdays, regardless of how accurate or inaccurate they are. Because, in the end, the age isn’t really so important. They are here in our family now, and that’s what really matters.



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