In the developed world, we place such emphasis on our date of birth – we read horoscopes, and throw huge parties to celebrate each passing year. So, it comes as a bit of a shock to realize that for many people in places like rural east Africa, children are born, and no one records the date of birth. Such was the case for our boys.
When we first received information about them, the paperwork included birthdays for both of them, along with the barest of medical evaluations, which at least did include heights and weights, allowing us to chart them to get a sense of their nutritional status. J’s medical form included an assessment by the Ethiopian doctor that he was malnourished. By the birthdate given, at the time of the initial examination, J should have been 15 months old, but the examiner noted that he was unable to sit up independently. By the time we met J, and brought him home, he was supposed to be 23 months old, but the developmental pediatrician we took the boys to see pointed out that his anterior fontanel was still open, placing his estimated age at no older than 14 months! So, his birthday is about 10 months off.
In S’s case, the error is in the opposite direction, and is of probably greater magnitude. By the initial examination, he was thought to be appropriate in size for his stated age, which would have been 3 1/2 at the time of the exam, and 4 1/4 by the time we met him. In his case, it took until he was able to express himself in English for us to get the idea that his age by his birth date had to be at least one year off, if not more! An early clue was to look at the drawings he did for us at the outset – he loved to draw, and he was able to draw fairly sophisticated human figures and faces, as well as houses and mountains, clouds, rain, and animals. He lost two front teeth last year, when he was supposedly only 4 1/2 years old – possible, I guess, but not so likely. His motor skills, both fine and motor, were si far beyon those of his peers in his class at the ECC, and our friend and his teacher and director of the ECC, Rori Pollak, insisted that he had to be at least a year older than his age based on the birthdate on his birth certificate. Now, realize that the birth certificates that both boys had were generated after they were placed in the orphanage, and, in fact, had our names on them as parents.
So, we have one child who is at least one year older than his stated age, and the other who is 6-10 months YOUNGER than his stated age. It’s always easier to keep a kid back a year than to advance them, so we aren’t as worried about J than we are about S. All of S’s classmates will be starting kindergarten next fall, and I think he’ll go nuts if he had to stay back in preschool – so, fortunately, we were able to have his birth certificate “corrected” and added a year – so, now, he’s officially 5 1/2!