I have said this many times before, but adopting older children (internationally, in this case) is amazing for so many reasons. Not the least of these reasons being that once language barriers are overcome and trust is built, they can clearly communicate about their past, their histories, their first families, their trauma, their grief, their dreams, and their culture and traditions. I am like a kid at Christmas when Big Sister and Sporty get into “story mode”! Pour me a cup of cheer and I’ll pull up a chair for hours…if need be.
Keeping in mind that oral tradition, in Ethiopia, is still such a big part of how stories are handed down from one generation to another, I imagine there are just as many versions of the story I am about to share as there are subcultures in this beautiful country. Just last week while our family was on a ski and snowboarding vacation atop a beautiful mountaintop resort in a neighboring state, Big Sister and Sporty…while arguing over who gets to rub my feet (tough life, I know!)…were on a roll sharing stories of days past and memories made. (Photo evidence of the awesome massages they give lest you think I make this good stuff/huge blessing up! In fact, Big Sister is rubbing my shoulders as I type this.)
As Big Sister took her turn sharing a story, I found myself intrigued and humored. (She tells great stories, by the way!) She shared a story about the Ethiopian version of the ‘tooth fairy’ that was too good not to pass along. The entire story made me laugh and light up, knowing that despite the many traumas and past hurts in her life, her birth mother found ways to give her a childhood as best as she could. She found ways to pass along fun traditions, amidst the daily struggle for survival.
Some things, I am coming to learn, are simply universal. Family love is universal. I found myself imagining this scene she was describing play out in a land far away, by people who often do not know where their next meal will come from. The mud huts or corrugated tin makeshift residences, the dirt roads, the furniture-less homes. The community latrine and water supply. Home!
I thought the best way to share this story with you was to let Big Sister share it herself. So, I captured a quick video of her telling the story of the Ethiopia tooth fairy….who is…A BIRD! Watch and enjoy!
In case you missed or were not able to understand the main parts of this story, I will summarize. When a child loses her or his tooth, the child and caregiver go outside and sing, “Bird, bird, you can have my teeth, I can have your teeth.” (Never mind that fact that most birds do not have teeth. Perhaps one of the few rare species of birds that do have teeth were flying around her hometown. I do not know, but yes I did spend considerable time researching birds with teeth. Why? I dunno?! Big Sister fell on the floor laughing when I told her most birds do not have teeth.)
Anyway, after singing the line about exchanging teeth with the bird, the child then tosses the tooth up unto the rooftop. If the bird takes the tooth (and no one goes to actually check, but I assume mom/dad/guardian may take the tooth just as we parents do here in the states), then the child will be blessed with good teeth and oral hygiene. If not, well…tough luck I guess?!
Either way, the fact that children on the other side of the world, living in abject poverty, celebrate milestones just as we do here in uber rich America, made me smile. It filled me with hope. It filled me with peace, for some odd reason. We are often so wrapped up in the daily grind, our task lists, our over-programmed schedules, that we may perhaps fail to realize and embrace the universal nature and universal love of family and shared blessings.
As we close out another Christmas, I pray that we are able to focus on gifts that really matter. Love, mercy, compassion, kindness, bearing one another’s burdens. The kind of gifts that are often found not under the tree, but around the tree. In those people we hold nearest and dearest. I pray that this year we are able to cherish those gifts a little more, because at the end of the day I think we all know that the self-giving gifts we share with those who we hold close are the gifts that truly matter. Just as Jesus giving his life for us is the best gift we can ever be given, the best gifts we can give are gifts that demonstrate selfless love. While Big Sister’s birth mother might not be here to see her daughter light up and she passes along a tradition to her new family, her mother’s spirit was certainly present. I am thankful for her selfless love and sacrifice each and every day and know that one day, in the Kingdom, we will all be united, free from disease and poverty and all pains and struggles.