Or, how my son got younger since we adopted him.
We recently celebrated Round 2 of my son Sam’s fourth birthday party. On the surface, this may not seem unusual. A lot of people might have two different birthday parties – one at school and one at home, one with family and one with friends, etc. What makes Sam’s second party noteworthy is that his first one was 18 months ago.
That’s right. We celebrated Sam’s fourth birthday party with his “twin” sister Ellie in April of 2013… and then we celebrated it again in October of 2014.
If you spend any time with kids, you know that their birthdays are precious to them. Beyond the obvious appeal of superhero cakes and Lego sets, they also love that birthdays are proof that they are getting older. Every kid wants to grow up… to be big. As evidence of this, I will cite that most kids will begin claiming within days after their 3rd birthday that they are now 3½.
Now picture Sam. Rather than the traditional (albeit excruciatingly long) wait of 12 months between parties, Sam has had to wait 18. And instead of the satisfaction of celebrating the graduation from 4 year old to 5 year old, he has made NO progress. By some measures, Sam may actually be getting younger over time.
Before this starts to sound like an advertisement for a breakthrough Skin Crème, I should probably provide some background.
When we were called in late 2012 by our adoption agency about Sam and Ellie, they were presented to us as twins. It was not until we started seeing pictures of them that we began to question this assumption. While this may seem ridiculous when describing a 3 year old, it somehow felt like Ellie was more mature.
When we met them, we started seeing many of the same things in person that we had noticed in the photos. Ellie felt like more of a “big sister” in how she cared for Sam and protected him during the transition. It increasingly felt like their status as twins might not be accurate.
I am embarrassed to say how long it took us to realize that we should just ask them. I will never forget when the interpreter told Ellie that her new Mom and Dad wondered if she and Sam were twins. Ellie just laughed and laughed. She was then quick to point out that she was the “Jie Jie” (Big Sister) and Sam was the “Di Di” (Little Brother.) Sammy agreed… but then again, Sam loved Ellie so much that he pretty much agreed with whatever she said. She could have suggested that he was a dog, and we would have probably started barking.
Recognizing that nothing was going to change in the short-term (and that a change in birth date could hinder the adoption and immigration paperwork), we left it alone for several months. This included the celebration of their aforementioned 4th Birthday Party in April 2013.
After they had been home for about a year, we began the Legal process of having Sam re-aged.
It is fairly common for the listed age of an internationally adopted child to be inaccurate. In some cases, officials may change the birth date to make the child seem younger and more adoptable. I have read several stories of people whose “officially” 8 or 9 year old child came home with early signs of facial hair or having started their period. (Fortunately, I haven’t read any where both of these were true for the same child.)
In China where it is common for children to be abandoned without any documentation, officials choose a birth date for the child when they put him or her into the system. This may or may not have any connection to their actual date of birth or age.
In the case of Sam and Ellie, we believe that the “error” was an act of grace. Since they were abandoned together, the decision to make them “twins” helped to insure that they would stay together in the system and ultimately to their forever family if adopted. Had they simply been characterized as siblings, there is a good chance that they would have been separated. Like so many other aspects of their amazing story, we believe this is yet another example of God’s favor on the two of them.
Re-aging is a process that apparently used to be fairly straight-forward in international adoptions but it has become somewhat more complex in recent years. (Our attorney suggested that this was a desire to better control identity tracking of immigrants in a post-9/11 world. I personally think it was precipitated by that Cuban pitcher in the Little League World Series a few years ago who appeared to be 27 years old.)
While every situation is unique, here are the key elements of our experience with re-aging:
- Legal Guidance – We engaged an attorney to help us navigate the process. We also chose to use this opportunity to have US birth certificates created for our other adopted children as we have been told it can be an issue later in life to rely on adoption paperwork for age verification.
- Medical Assessment – Working with our International Adoption Clinic at the local Children’s Hospital, we scheduled a series of diagnostic tests that were designed to provide some estimated age ranges. These tests ranged from developmental tests to growth plate scans to dental evaluations. In Sam’s case, the analysis yielded a fairly consistent projected age… (which wasn’t even close to the “official” birth date that he shared with Ellie.)
- Birth Date Selection – Using the ranges from the above tests, we were then given the incredibly unique opportunity to PICK Sam’s birthday. Given the baseline challenge of remembering 5 other kids’ birthdays, we targeted something memorable… 10/10/10. I think he will like what we picked, but I do expect some questions from him when he realizes what happened… like the day that his “twin sister” gets her driver’s license, and Sam realizes that he won’t be behind the wheel for another year and a half. I also can picture him at a Club on his sister’s 21st birthday with a 17 year old Chinese passport trying to convince the bouncer that he is the toddler in the picture and that the Chinese characters are evidence that he should be welcome at the bar.
- Court Filings – With a letter from the International Adoption Clinic (but other medical recommendations would likely work), we worked with an attorney to file a petition with the State for a new birth date. Our file is currently being reviewed, and we expect to have confirmation and a new birth certificate in the next few months.
All of this has taken time, and in the interim… Sam has not aged and has not had a birthday for 18 months. I recall when my kids started asking about their next birthday within weeks after their previous one, so you can only imagine the anguish as Sam watched some of his siblings have TWO birthdays since his last one.
He always had a good attitude, but you could tell that he was getting anxious about when there would finally be a cake with his name on it. He might have started to think I was punishing him or didn’t like him as much as his siblings… rather than the truth that I love him more than my own life.
And so last week, Sam finally got his wish… and a few bonus presents for the extra months of waiting (and the aforementioned love.) And he is now on the same 12 month cycle as every other human on the planet.
And in case you are wondering, he does already think he is 4 ½.