Adoption is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t.

Our adoption hasn’t been. At least, not compared to what it should have been.

Five years ago we went to Addis Ababa and brought home a four-year old who produces energy at a rate that would make a nuclear reactor jealous and has a 10,000-watt smile that makes being unhappy really difficult

He wakes up before the sun with a smile on his face and spark plugs in his heels and goes 100 miles per hour until sleep finally overtakes him.

He never seems to have a care in the world. That isn’t typical of children who remember being relinquished to an orphanage by a mother who could no longer feed or care for them and made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve their lives.

Dawit was severely malnourished and suffered from pneumonia to the point where his birth mother had to make a choice to continue to try to care for him and risk his life, or allow someone else to take that responsibility.

We met his birth mother after we had taken custody. She had the same smile and big laugh that her son had inherited. She meant well. She loved her child and did all she could for him.

But she was all alone. Her life didn’t allow her to care for him well.

That’s where we came in.

When we decided to adopt, we wanted to help a child who needed a family. We asked the agency which children had the most trouble getting adopted. The answer was older boys. That made our decision easy. We already had a seven-year old son. A little brother would be perfect for him.

We were ready for anything. We read the books. These problems should be expected. Other issues are possible.

The biggest problem we have is that he can be messy when he tries to help do something for himself. I’m pretty sure messiness in little boys goes beyond international adoptions of older children.

Like I said, our adoption has been easy compared to what we expected. But every now and then, shadows reach out from places Dawit doesn’t usually reveal and show us some feelings that are hidden by his normally bright smile.

Whether it is sobbing tears in a movie theater when a friendly dinosaur takes in a human boy and returns him safely to his own family, or constant questions about what time it is in Ethiopia and what life is like for his friends that are still there, we see glimpses of an inner conflict.

You simply never know when something is going to sneak up out of his eternal happiness and punch you in the gut.

This week on an assignment, Dawit had read a story. One of the characters looked sad after listening to a conch shell because she recalled a time from her past. The students were asked if they ever felt sad missing a person or place. My son’s answer delivered one of those infrequent punches to the gut.

“In Africa, my mom said to go to a different mom and dad,” he wrote.

Hold on for a second. I think I have something in my eye.

It’s been five years. He has been with us longer than he has been anywhere. He loves his life and his brother. If you don’t believe me, you should hear his prayers. Every day he thanks God for his family and friends. He loves them and he is loved well.

But he still worries about his birth mother and if she is safe. He is starting to overcome the rage he felt for her when he first laid eyes on her after we had taken custody and met with her for a couple of hours so she could tell him goodbye and tell us more about herself and her dreams for him as he grows older. He wouldn’t look at her or touch her. He was mad.

However, he is beginning to understand that what she did wasn’t selfish – in fact it was selfless. She did the hardest thing any mother could because she feared for his health and well-being.

Sometimes these reminders are good for us. He is so happy and vibrant that we tend to forget that there is trauma in his past that he still has to process.

He will be just fine.  Having to travel to a far off land and leave all you know behind can’t be easy.

But he has a family now. He will never be alone.

Whatever he goes through, we’ll be right there with him every step of the way.

Adoption is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t.

But there is nothing in the world that has been as rewarding to me or my family than adding this endless supply of unbridled energy wrapped in brown skin to our clan.

One day I hope we get to buy dinner for the woman who told him “to go to a new mom and dad” and let her see how far he has come since she relinquished the sick little malnourished boy many years ago.

I think she would be incredibly proud of the young man he is becoming. I know I am.