Nine-year-old Peter Milton says he’s up to the challenge of having a new brother at his house.
“It’s going to be hard,” he says about the new experience that will mean sharing toys, as well as the attention of his parents, Andrew and Sandy Milton.
But he and his new brother Eliyas, also 9, seem to get along as if they’ve known each other all their lives — playing foosball, enjoying a snack or just hanging out in their Tacoma home.
In fact, the two boys met just before Christmas, when the Miltons journeyed to Ethiopia to adopt Eliyas.
Andrew, a teacher at Pioneer Middle School in DuPont who blogged about the family’s experience, wrote about the emotions that surged after that first meeting.
“Part of me felt bad. … we’re ripping him out of an environment where he has many loving friends and caregivers, and I don’t want to be flip about the fact that there are losses for him. Yes, we represent more and better prospects for him — I believe that, otherwise it seems selfish and even immoral to do this, but there are things he’s losing, at least in the short run.”
The meeting was the culmination of almost three years of waiting. The family had to hire an attorney to help them — just one of the many expenses in international adoption that, along with travel, added up to tens of thousands of dollars for the Miltons.
They borrowed money, held garage sales, and accepted donations from friends and through a website called Adopt Together, an adoption crowdfunding site.
One garage sale patron criticized the family for adopting a child from another country, when there are plenty of American kids in need of a family.
“My personal perspective is that there are a lot of kids in need everywhere,” Andrew said.
He and Sandy, a therapist and counselor in private practice, adopted Peter when he was just a few weeks old, traveling to Atlanta to meet his birth mother, who had selected them to adopt her child.
When it came time to grow their family, they first tried foster parenting. But that didn’t lead to adoption.
Adopting a boy the same age as Peter wasn’t part of their plan. But the Miltons were intent on finding a child of the same race as Peter. He is African American, and his adoptive parents are white.
It just happened.
Sandy Milton, about adopting a second son who’s the same age as her first
The couple is sensitive to questions raised by interracial adoption.
“We started talking with Peter early about race,” Sandy said.
Andrew said that shortly after Peter joined the family, he attended a teacher training that touched on racial issues. He said one presenter, a biracial man, told him that “your son is going to have to figure out who he is.”
And a black friend told them that “white privilege is never having to think about race.”
“I don’t want to think that everything is about race,” said Sandy. But sometimes, she adds, it’s important to talk about it.
The family met their newest member for the first time Dec. 12, at an orphanage in Ethopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa. They communicated with the help of an English-Amharic (the official language of Ethiopia) vocabulary book. Eliyas had also studied some English in school.
But Peter and his new brother were soon immersed in another international language: soccer. The two boys spent time in the orphanage courtyard passing a ball back and forth and getting to know each other. Peter’s new brother gave him a tour of the orphanage.
The family didn’t learn much about Eliyas’ background, despite asking lots of questions. His file was a thin one, Sandy said. They were told that his mother abandoned the family when Eliyas was just over 2 years old, and that his father brought him to the orphanage when he was five.
Two days after their first meeting, they went to an Ethiopian court, where a judge asked them questions before completing the adoption. There were more procedures — a brief health check-up and a tuberculosis test for Eliyas, obtaining an Ethiopian birth certificate and passport for him.
Then, it was off to the American embassy for more official processes. The Miltons had emailed officials there, asking if they would be able to get home for Christmas.
International adoptions have grown more complicated for American families in recent years, following reports of fraud in several countries.
There are a lot of kids in need everywhere.
Andrew Milton, father of two adopted boys
The U.S. State Department writes on its website that “direct recruitment of children from birth parents by adoption service providers or their employees remains a serious concern for the Department of State.” The website also said the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia, because of those concerns, has heightened scrutiny of adoption visa processing in the country.
But the Miltons got their wish, arriving home early the morning of Christmas Eve.
The family is helping to ease Eliyas into his new home in several ways.
While on their trip, the family developed an appreciation for Ethiopian coffee — an important part of the country’s culture — and brought some home with them. They have ordered teff, a type of Ethiopian cereal grain. But they also visited a McDonald’s in the Dubai airport on the way home.
When they arrived at their Tacoma home, friends had decorated it with a welcome poster. Someone gave them a pencil drawing of the two new brothers, Peter and Eliyas.
But the biggest surprise for Eliyas was waiting for him in the Milton kitchen. During the adoption process, once they knew they’d been matched with a specific child, the Miltons received photographs of Eliyas.
“We had his picture on our refrigerator,” Sandy said. “And when he walked into the kitchen and saw it, his eyes lit up.”