Sunday, July 29, 2012

Adoption Day, Part II: During

July 29, 2003

I'm not entirely sure how we made it to the airport, packed to the gills with clothing and supplies for us and the kids, water and snacks, and donations for the orphanage, just a few days after we'd received the call from Barbara to inform us that our children were ready to come home.  It's all a blur to me now, tucked away in the same part of my brain that harbors the exact feeling of the contractions that accompanied the birth of our youngest.  As we stood in line to check our luggage, I thought back to that day 38 months before when we had decided we would form our family through adoption.  Our eldest was born that very day, many miles away, neither of us knowing anything about the other.   But we would not learn of that little miracle of timing until after we'd unsuccessfully navigated the domestic adoption system for 20 months.

On the plane, it occurred to us that after we landed, we would no longer be just the two of us.  Those were our final few hours of coupledom.  We were going to be parents, and not the kind of parents who could ease into parenting, taking sweet, soothing walks with our newborn baby in a sling.  We were going to be the parents of two toddlers, a 38 month old and a 21 month old -- two small human beings who had already lived a whole lifetime each, with their own cultures, language, family (including the children and care-givers in the orphanage), and habits.  They'd been together since our son was 3 days old, when he was brought to the orphanage and placed in his sister's crib.  Never again would they be just the two of them either.

I held onto my husband's hand, not letting go until we were safely on the ground in Florida.

After another short flight, we arrived in Haiti.  Thus far, I'd only been in Haiti in fall and winter.  I was not prepared for what summer had to offer.  We walked out of the small terminal into a wall of thick, damp air that caught my breath and twisted it in my lungs.   Dozens of men and boys begged us to let them take our luggage and drive us where we needed to go.  I'd done this a few times by then and knew to tell them we were waiting for Barbara in the Blue Dress.  Everybody knew Barbara in the Blue Dress.  Having arrived in Haiti for a short stay several decades earlier to help build a church, she'd stayed to do much more than she'd ever expected -- build an orphanage, send kids to school, provide a safe place for birth mothers, teach women independence, build wells and provide purifiers for clean drinking water. For a long portion of this time, she traversed the bumpy, muddy streets of Port-au-Prince on a motorcycle.  The peddlers in the airport knew not to mess with Barbara's people.

But Barbara never came.  We waited for what seemed like hours, the time slowed by the acrid and oppressive air.

The luggage carriers and drivers returned.  "We know Barbara," they told us.  "She no come.  I take you.  I good man."  One man finally offered to call for a nominal fee since our cell phone was not working.  Barbara had never gotten the email with our flight information, the internet being spotty and electricity even worse.  She was on her way.

We waited.  I cried some.  I could not get to our children soon enough.

Just as we were once again surrounded by people insisting they could drive us to our hotel, an authoritative figure in a blue dress parted the crowd with her very presence.  "Barbara!"  She was greeted from all sides, by airport staff, by the luggage carriers and drivers, by two frazzled new parents waiting to pick up their children.

The hotel was just minutes from the airport.  When we arrived our eldest was standing outside the pool with an American woman, another adopting mom on her way home.  She wore a bathing suit.  Her legs had grown and straightened since I'd last seen her, a relief since our pediatrician had diagnosed her with Rickets based upon early photos.  She eyed us indifferently.  I turned to my husband, "She doesn't remember us?"  I approached her slowly.  I held out my arms.  She walked into them and let me pick her up.   Unnoticed, as I hugged my daughter, the American woman slipped away and we were officially put in charge of this little life forever.

"Where is our son?" I asked.  Barbara assured us that Johnny, her assistant, was on his way with our son.  As if on cue, Johnny drove up to the hotel, our son, 21 months and the size of a 6 month old, lounging precariously in the front seat.  My husband went to retrieve him.

Truthfully, I don't remember much about that afternoon or the next morning, except that we swam some, my daughter ate a ton, my son ate very little, we napped and bathed, and we had to switch our flight for a later time the next day as we still had a bit of paperwork to sign with the lawyers.

What I will never forget, though, is lying on the hotel bed that afternoon, all four of us, and feeling at once completely lost, terrified, totally unprepared, happy, and more fulfilled than I'd ever felt.  I would experience that disorienting combination of emotions once again, 11 months later, upon bringing their little sister home from the hospital and repeating that nap-time scene in our own bed, at home, our little family finally complete.

You can read Adoption Day, Part I: Before here.
Stay tuned for Adoption Day, Part III: After tomorrow.

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