Ever since our girls were little, Kurt and I have enjoyed having dinner out as a family. We didn't expect that to change when we added the boys to our family. We were so naive.
When we were in Ethiopia to bring Mikias home, he stayed in the hotel with us. Our first night with him we brought him to one of the hotel's 'casual' restaurants. Our new 4 and 1/2 year old son smiled as we sat down at the table, copied us as we put our napkins on our laps and pretended to read the menu. Kurt and I smiled across the table at each other and both thought 'isn't this great?'. Then Mikias spotted some dabo (bread) on the table next to us. He slid off his chair, crawled under the table and grabbed the bread right off of the table. The couple at the table was not amused. Kurt asked the waiter to make our order 'to go' and I got up to take Mikias outside, but not before he broke away from me, running and weaving in and out of the tables and crawling under chairs to avoid my grasp, laughing the whole time. He grabbed the leg of a passing waiter and spoke to him urgently in Amharic. The waiter gave him some fruit and we hightailed it out of there. Oh, to think how mad we used to get when we took the girls out and Maddy spilled her water (almost every time...even as a teenager). We didn't know how good we had it.
After Mikias was home for a time, we tried again. It wasn't great but seemed to improve a little each time we went out. We based our choice of restaurant on how loud it was. The louder the better, less attention on our family. When Jemberu joined our family, we continued restaurant training. Red Robin was the best, always loud and if we sat in a booth we were semi-shielded from other diners. After a time, we graduated to Chili's. Not as loud but still pretty good. Sometimes it was great and other times... not so great. The boys still had a tendency to try to slip away so we would physically try to block them by placing ourselves in 'ready position', and grab them at the first sign of escape. Not too much is more embarrassing than having your child yell in a public place "Owww....stop you are HURTING me!" Other diners would glance our way and then openly stare at us as they tried to figure out why those white people were hurting those beautiful black children.
It may come as no surprise that we never took the boys to the Ethiopian restaurant in Boston. I mean, what could be worse than bad restaurant behavior in front of Ethiopians. It may sound silly, but I really cared how they would see us as a family. I didn't want them to feel sorry for our sons or worse to think that Americans adopting Ethiopian children was a bad idea. But this past Saturday evening, all the conditions were right. Devyn, our oldest, was home for the weekend and needed a ride to Boston. Addis Red Sea accepts dinner reservations for parties of 5 or more, so no waiting. We were ready, we gave the boys a pep talk and off we went.
We arrived and that's when things started to go off plan. In spite of our reservations we waited over a half hour to be seated, the whole time Jemby whining that he was 'huunnngrrry'. I got a little tense but his whining was remarkably quiet. I also noticed that whenever an Ethiopian person walked by he put his arm around me and smiled at them. Once we were seated, the wait was long again, but instead of being restless the boys were sweet and affectionate. I introduced the boys to our waitress, Jemberu told her that he and Mikias also were from Ethiopia. He wrapped his arm around me as he spoke to her. When she returned with our drinks, Jemby saw her coming and smoothed down my hair (which was a little crazy from the rain). Mikias was perfect, polite and quiet. He was next to Kurt and like his brother was super affectionate. When Jemby spilled his water (since Maddy wasn't there to do it) he insisted on talking to the waitress about it, offering her his deepest apologies. It was bizarre. They were so good. Too good. I pinched myself to be sure I wasn't having a really great dream.
Then it hit me. The boys, like me, cared how other Ethiopians would see our family. Their unprecedented good behavior was their way of saying "Look at us. We have a family now and we are doing great!" I was moved to tears when I realized what was going on inside of them.