About a week ago we returned from our first trip to eastern Europe. Michelle and I both had the exact same word to describe the feelings we had from everything that has transpired up to this point....surreal. I know that may sound like a cop-out, but it is so true. The night we got home, we laid in bed and I said, "can you believe we were just in Europe yesterday?" "Nope", was her reply. "It doesn't seem possible. The day we've been waiting and waiting for; praying for; longing for; has now come and gone. It's unbelievable".
Since starting this process back in the summer of 2011, we have gone through every detail, step-by-step, that is needed to be done locally, nationally, and internationally. Each step we completed would get us one step closer to FINALLY making the trip to meet our child. I write it that way because that was the emotion we felt for nearly a year. Waiting to FINALLY see our child. Well guess what? We've seen our child and it doesn't at all feel like FINALLY. The week was wonderful for many reasons: we did meet our child, we saw the culture and history that surrounds him, we met the wonderful people currently caring for him, we made new friends, and we put a whole new perspective on our mindsets. (well, maybe not completely new because we do understand the journey that we are on but sometimes we have to remind our heart and emotions that the step we are taking is often just that....a step. It's a step on a long journey).
Let me try to explain some of the week's events. As always, we do ask that you respect the privacy of the child, the country and the process so some details will be left out...but I'll do my best to give you a feel for what our week was like. It started on Saturday, April 7th. We took Spencer and Emilie (ages 11 and 8) to grandma and grandpa's house as we headed to good ole Indianapolis International Airport. Funny, the word "international" meant so much more this time than for other flights I've been on. As we dropped the kids off, Emilie came running after us down the driveway. She was crying and saying, "take me with you....don't go....I don't want you to leave." We played it off that it'll be no time at all before she has forgotten that we were even gone and she would be having a great time. While we hoped that to be true, inside I was dying. This is my little girl. My child that I've sworn to protect. She was scared and already missing us. It broke my heart, but it also let me know the bond that we have with our children. I probably would have been more heartbroken if she had said, "yea, ok. See ya, have fun" as she was running out the back door to go play. So we left a couple children that we had sworn to protect in the capable care of family and friends and we headed to seek another child that we have now equally sworn to protect....and love. 4 Airports and 18 hours later we arrived at our destination. We expected to meet a driver/translator that would show us around for the evening and then settle in to leave for the orphanage the following morning. We did meet our driver/translator, a wonderful guy, but instead of hanging out with him we found out that he had another family to pick up at the airport so he would be dropping us off a the hotel. DROPPING US OFF!!!! Wait! I can barely pick up the foreign phrases that I've learned on the CD we've been listening to. I can't speak the language conversationally. We just might starve on our very first evening. He showed us the hotel, a good restaurant, and a trusted place to exchange money...hmmmm, I presume this meant that there were un-trusted places to exchange money...(had to make a mental note of this fact.) My concerns were totally unfounded and quickly changed. We got along just fine, had a good meal, and were more than ready to turn in after the long flight....flights.
The next morning we were picked up and headed to the orphanage 3-1/2 hours away. As it turns out, the other family that our driver needed to pick up was heading to the same orphanage. This would be that family's second trip which meant they were picking up their child to take home. How exciting. I mentioned before that we were FINALLY taking our trip. We have learned along the way that there is no FINALLY to it. This family was FINALLY on their second trip, we are waiting to be there soon. But that FINALLY will give way to the next finally. Finally our child is speaking fluent English. Finally our child is attending school. Finally everyone accepts our child as not being "different". Finally Spencer is starting high school. Finally Emilie is out of grade school. Finally kids are getting married. Finally we have a grandchild. All of the "finallies" lead to the next finally. Did you notice how the finallies went from child to child? Kinda sounds like a family, doesn't it? :)
So we had a wonderful talk with this family on the ride to the orphanage. They told us about everything that we should expect. We had already been told a lot from some friends that had gone before us and paved the way for our adoption and you know what? Just like the children, there are no two stories exactly the same. Our friends here in Indiana have a different story than our new friends on the trip and both are different from ours. I love it. Each one is unique. Don't get me wrong, the advice is invaluable. It was so incredibly helpful and we hope to be able to pass advice along to the next family as well. But it was also nice to not know exactly everything. Something about the mystery and the intrigue that made it wonderful. It's our story. It's our child's story. Ours alone. There's something special about that.
At the orphanage, and for the next three days, we spent time with our child. We got to know him, and he got to know us. Well, as much as we could. We played together, we laughed, sometimes we just sat back and watched him. At one point I watched as he went to a window and looked outside at the cars, and the trees, and the birds, and the dogs. For a brief moment I thought, "I didn't come all the way over here to sit back and not be engaged. I need to get up and "do" something with him." But then a thought came to my mind. For you parents out there, you know when your newborn is asleep in their crib and they are in their familiar element and they have that sense of security? Do you recall just watching them? Watching them sleep? I mean, come on, how much joy is there in watching a person sleep? Well when it's your child there is unimaginable joy. That's what this was like. There was an odd sense of calmness and serenity in simply watching him in his element. I thoroughly enoyed it. As for what we saw of our child, he was energetic. To call him a giggle-box would be a major understatement. He has the type of giggle that would instantly brighten a room. Each meeting brought with it a little more familiarity. On our first meeting, he was excited to have visitors. The next meeting he was excited to see us return. After that, it appeared that he had been waiting for us and was excited that we had arrived. That's where it started to get tough, because on Wednesday afternoon we had to say good-bye. Not until tomorrow this time, but for an extended time. We're not sure what all he understands and it was really difficult to know exactly what to say. We decided to not dwell on the leaving, not wanting to confuse him or scare him or anything. As we left the final time, it seemed obvious that he somehow knew. All I can say is that it was a very difficult departure. One way that I can describe it is that when we left the US, we left Spencer and Emilie in the capable hands of family and friends. They had things to do, kids to play with, adults that loved them and cared for them...and I was dying inside being so far away from them. Now, we are leaving our child....with things to do, friends to play with, adults to love and care for him....and we're dying inside. We started thinking of all of the things going through his mind the next day when we didn't show up. It was killing us. We missed our children at home. We missed our child in Europe. Our emotions were all over the place. Oh, how we wanted to be like the family we had met...on their second trip, taking their child home. We reminded one another of something we were told during the waiting period. We had anticipated this moment would be difficult, but we were told, "you can NEVER go back for your second trip without leaving after your first trip". So that's how we tried to look at it. This leaving, as hard as it was, was merely another step closer to bringing our child home....FINALLY. As we lay around in the hotel room the night before our travel back home, we received reports of how Spencer and Emilie were doing. Grandpa says they were "great. No trouble at all. A big help." We learned from a friend that Spencer had taken it upon himself to help Emilie with her spelling words and that they both were being very fun, considerate, and helpful at the respective homes of the friends they were staying with. One very dear friend told us how things were going and said, "they are wonderful children. You guys have done a great job." I started to cry. (Ok, I'm crying now writing this). The complexity of the week started to get to me. I was so proud of the reports we received from the states, I was so distraught over leaving Europe. It is all so...surreal.
The travel back was even longer than going over. We had a six-hour layover in Toronto. The in-flight movie audio wasn't working so we tried to read lips during some of the movies (to be honest, considering what they showed we were actually quite glad that watching and listening wasn't an option). From the time we got up in Europe to head to the airport until the time we walked in the doors here at home was 25-1/2 hours of continual travel time....exhausting. The next day I went and got Spencer and then he and I went to get Emilie. On the way home, Emilie started getting emotional. "What's wrong honey?" "I just really missed you guys. I had a good time with my friends, but I need to get home and see Mommy." When we pulled in the drive, she jumped out of the car, sprinted into the house and jumped into Michelle's arms, crying. She felt the way that we will all feel once our second trip is completed. Everything is in it's place and the family is all at home together....FINALLY!!!