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Thirteen Years – An Adoptive Mother and Her Baby Son

By Colleen Wells

Back to School-4th grade

As a baby you are found abandoned in a crowded marketplace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

You in a picture at about age two. Soulful, sad eyes, distended belly, shaved head to keep off the lice. Every time I look at it I feel my heart squeeze.

At two and a half you’re home, see snow for the first time, and shovel handfuls of it into your mouth until your new Dad stops you.

You pick up the language quickly, but still use your native Amharic for certain words like “Shente bet” meaning “toilet.” In a busy restaurant, you run between the tables yelling, “I gotta go shente. Shent! Shint!” while clutching yourself. It sounds like something else.

9/11 happens and you understand more than we’d like. You refer to military men as “army pants.” At a steakhouse you see a table of men in army fatigues and ask them if they’re going to get the bad guys. Later you whisper to your older brother, “Army pants can’t die.”

At three you are so happy to see your grandpa, that you grab him in the balls. Big laughs all around.

At four we are driving down highway 37 jamming to the Beastie Boys so hard I worry what passersby think.

Around six or seven you start winning character awards at your elementary school. My favorite is the “patience” award.

When you’re eight you get a piece of a geode embedded in a growth plate in your hand. It requires full anesthesia to dig it out. I know it’s a small procedure, but find myself pacing in the waiting area, having to go outside to breathe in the air and bargain with God. When you wake up I stare into the pools of your eyes as if it’s the first time. On the way home you want to stop at school to show the kids the shrapnel from your hand.

At ten you’re no longer the scrawniest one on the soccer team, but I still scream from the sidelines when an opponent gets too rough with you, especially if I’ve had too much caffeine.

By twelve you’ve discovered a passion for fishing. You’ve had hooks cut out of your finger and ear to prove it.

We tell you we’re bringing an eight-year-old sister into the fold. You’re naturally jealous, asking, “Are we really getting that Crapper?”

At thirteen we’re driving with the windows down, wind in our hair, listening to Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen so loud the car is vibrating.

At fourteen you can read my face as well as you could when you were five. Only you don’t ask if I’m sad or scared. You just ask me what’s wrong. And I tell you.

You argue with your sister all the time, but you’d take a bullet for her.

Now that you are fifteen, you’re itching to take driver’s ed. You’re off with your buddies, all of the time, but you still curl up on the edge of your parents’ bed.

Colleen Wells writes from Bloomington, Indiana, where she lives with her husband and three children, three dogs, and three cats. Her favorite number is 333. Colleen’s first book, Dinner With Doppelgangers – A True Story of Madness & Recovery is forthcoming from Wordpool Press. You can read more about her work at or

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