ELLIE’S ADOPTION: Three Things That Surprised Us

Last week I introduced you to Ellie, the daughter we adopted from South Africa in 2008. Click here to read if you missed it. She was 7 months old when we met her, and she’s 9 years old now. Right from the start we were in for some surprises with Ellie. Here are three that stand out for me.

Ellie Surprise#1: No Difference in Feelings

Mary and I had four kids in the usual way before Ellie, so we knew what it was like to feel parental attachment to biological kids. What surprised us is how this same feeling kicked in right away with Ellie. I hear some people say “we could never love an adopted child like one of our own”. You might be surprised. Although I can’t speak for everyone, Ellie certainly felt like “one of our own” right from the start. This has never changed and I don’t think it ever will.


Ellie Surprise#2: Ellie Has a Lot of Africa in Her. A Lot.

Ellie was two months old when she began living in an African orphanage, and about 4 1/2 months old when she moved in with a white foster family in Durban. That’s not a lot of time to pick up cultural things (especially at that young age), but somehow she has them.

One of the features of the African languages in her area is a clicking sound. Compared with “Canadian” clicks, it takes a very different movement of the tongue and mouth to make this click. I’d never seen anything like it before Ellie. Many months before she could talk, Ellie was making this unique clicking sound. She still does it if you ask her to. Robert, our oldest, calls Ellie “Clicker” sometimes as a nickname.

Another strong “Africanism” Ellie seems hardwired with has to do with music and dancing. Even though she has grown up in a very rural, very white community, Ellie does dance moves of the kind we saw in South Africa when we were there. Dance just seems to ooze out of her. Also, even without any examples she could see, Ellie started wrapping t-shirts around her head when she was two years old, just like the women we saw in rural areas around Durban. She called it her “shirt hair”.

I’m constantly amazed at how much of Ellie’s personality, talents and what I call “African qualities” must come from genetics. She had very little time to pick them up at a very early age in Africa.

Ellie Surprise#3: She Was SO Welcomed

One of the nicest things about living in a small place, as we do, is that everyone knows you. But one of the challenges about living in a small place is that everyone knows you. So how would a very white, very traditional community react to a black child born in the heart of Africa? There would be no hiding Ellie. Was this a foolish thing for us to even try? And how would Ellie feel?

Neither Mary nor I expected any prejudice, but what we didn’t expect was the level of warmth and welcome. For months after Ellie arrived, people would stop us in the street and congratulate us. They showed a genuine interest in Ellie, and still do. She has been completely welcomed and embraced, and it’s a beautiful thing to see. In a world where racial tensions and troubles seem so common, I’m thankful and encouraged to see so much goodwill when it comes to Ellie and our community here on western Manitoulin Island.

Posted on June 23rd, 2017


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