Monday, October 26, 2009

Meeting your newly adopted kids... Am I the only one...

Okay. Am I the only one to think that the day you meet your new children is one of the weirdest days possible?

Sure it is joy-filled and exciting. Overwhelming. Emotionally draining. Exhilarating.

But it's also super-weird.

I remember meeting Abi and Hana. We flew into ET the night before. Got to our hotel between 7-8 p.m. ET time. Managed to eat something before the 3 of us crashed with our crazy jet-lag and travel exhaustion. Woke up at 3 a.m. wide awake and crazy-excited to meet the littles. Randomly cleaned and organized our hotel room. Crashed for a bit longer and then drug ourselves out of bed to meet our agency rep by 9 a.m. So, the weirdness is really already there considering how absolutely exhausted - yet wired - we all were. So she drives us over to the orphanage and by the time we walk through the door, the nannies already have Abi right there. He looks at us with a mixture of excitement, happiness, terror and confusion. Poor baby. We hold him and hug him and love on him... which we have been waiting forever to do... and it's wonderful but yet I feel like I'm watching from above. Somewhat removed. I want to cry and there are tears, but they don't really come out. I'm not sure why.

Then we find out that there was some miscommunication and the orphanage didn't know we were coming - so they sent Hana to school! So that poor girl is sent off to school like normal, then about an hour later, is drug out of class and back to us. This is her last time at school, last time with her friends and ripped from her last real routine - and brought to us. Now that's weird. But she handles it all like a champ. Before we know it the van pulls in the drive and she come barrelling through the door and into our arms. Shortly thereafter the nannies whisk her away to change her out of her school jumper and into a rather frilly dress. I don't like it - I don't want her out of my sight, so I follow awkwardly. I watch these women help her dress for the last time. Their last act of service for this little girl they have cared for for over a year. We take more photos. We look at their beds. They show us their welcome bags - most of the items are still there.

And then... it's over.

We leave. We go back to the hotel. They are now our children. Grace is so excited, she is trying desperately to interact with them, to play. They are mostly uninterested in her - they've had their fill of dealing with other kids. They wanted Mark and I. And they divided us up - Hana claimed Mark and Abi claimed me.

And so, by 10 a.m. we are back in our cramped hotel room with our new children and I have no idea what to do with them. The first day of the rest of our lives as they say.

It was weird.

Honestly, I was glad to put that day behind us. Not because it was a bad day. It wasn't. Not because the kids were demons - they really weren't. Not because I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. I was, but that wasn't the reason.

I think I just wanted Day One over. Day One felt too significant. Too important. Too easy to screw up. Day Two sounded safer.

And it was. Maybe not better or worse - just less pressure. And every day got easier. Not in the sense of kids being easier (b/c they were progressively more difficult for awhile) but just easier to find our place as a family of 5 (until we got home - then 6).

It was perhaps even weirder with Selam. Talk about build-up there! We waited SO long to bring her home. And there was so much personal drama for me and our family in between (unrelated to the adoption). Really, most of 2009 has been either emotionally super-charged or emotionally flat (as a result of coping with the super-charge). So all that as a backdrop. And Mark and I can't travel together for a number of reasons, but I'm lucky enough to have my mom travel with me. Which was wonderful on so many levels. But in the back of my mind I had this extra fear - I didn't know how Selam would behave for me. I was already rather freaked out about how to parent a 12 year old in the first place. The last thing I want is for my parenting skills to be on display (Mark doesn't count). Now, my mom did not and does not put any pressure on me, nor judge my parenting skills (or other skills). But still. I"m the queen of developing my own stressful situations.

So we arrive in the evening, again around 7:30ish. It's raining and dark and kind of crazy. We get to the guesthouse and I try and figure out the phone and internet. I can't. We collapse and sleep. I actually sleep great. Morning sun wakes me up at an acceptable hour. We head down and start meeting the other guests at the guesthouse. We have breakfast. We wait for Gail. No idea when she's coming (we didn't have a set appointment like we did last time). We hope she is coming that morning. We contemplate walking to Layla ourselves if she does not. Finally she arrives (in her defense it was only shortly after 9, so no big deal at all!).

Anyways, after a bit we head over to Layla. On the way Gail comments that she's not sure if Selam knows we are coming today. The guards open the gate and we pull in. As we are parking, I give my mom my camera to catch a photo. Then a flash of braids. I know it's her. I don't even get my door open and she's there. I barely slide out of the seat and she's in my arms. She knew. She was waiting. My poor mom is still trying to extract the camera from the bag. If I know her she was crying or nearly crying, which I'm sure exacerbated the problem. I remember this distracting, nagging thought running through my head: "I should be crying. Why am I not crying. Why am I happy, yet feeling numb?"

We extract the camera and get a few shots. Then Selam takes us on a whirlwind 6 minute tour of the orphanage. We see her room, her stuff. She interrupts a few classes to wave to friends. She gathers a few things. Gail asks if she wants to stay and spend the day at Layla with us, or go to the guesthouse. She wants to leave.

So, as abruptly as we arrived, we left. Gail drops us back off at the guesthouse. Now what??? We play for awhile with one of the toddlers who is there (Selam is great with little ones). She plays with some of the baby toys laying around. Eventually we go upstairs so she can check out her clothes and the items I brought. I realize quickly I didn't bring enough stuff (toys, activities, etc). I don't know what I was thinking, but I really didn't gauge that well. We had excess with Abi and Hana, so I planned smaller this time. But I didn't really take into account that with this adoption, we couldn't leave the guesthouse. Last time, we kept ourselves very busy running around Addis with 3 small children. This time, it was me, mom and a pre-teen, stuck in a house with other families trying to figure out how to keep busy!

So we hung out upstairs for awhile and my mom gave us some space. I was conflicted. I wanted some alone time with Selam and thought it was important to take that. Yet, I wasn't quite sure what to do with that time (!) and I wanted my mom to help. And yet, I was feeling very unsure about things and didn't want her to watch me muddle through. ;o)

So we survived. But it was weird.

Would it have been any less weird if I was a teacher or coach or in some other profession where I regularly spent quite a bit of time with kids of various ages that were perfect strangers? Because, objectively speaking, it was weird to just be handed the hand of a 3-5-12 year old and be told "go to it, they're all yours!" ARG! It was different with my bio girls. I think in that case, biology really is on your side. They didn't feel like complete strangers - after all, Grace and Ally inhabited my mid-section for 3/4 of a year. We felt pretty intimately connected before we'd met. And part of me expected (hoped!) for that same feeling with the other three. I know some families are lucky enough to have that. We didn't - or at least, I didn't.

I had stared at their photos and read the letters and scoured yahoo group emails for any scrap of news about them for months. My heart ached with each passing day, week, month of waiting. And yet, when we finally met, they were still strangers to me. They didn't pull at my heart quite the way I wanted, or the way I thought they should. I didn't feel quite like I thought I should. In some ways it was easier with Selam - I knew that I might not feel instant love and attachment and I was giving myself some leeway. I also knew that it would come and feeling terribly guilty about it wasn't going to make the love come any faster or stronger. So that was good.

But all in all, the experience was just. so. weird.
And wow, that was random.


HMK said...

Yes, it IS weird. Weird for us and for our kids. Those feelings are still not there 100% for me and my B... but I know they'll continue to come. Hard sayin' that a year after the fact, but one year isn't really much in the whole scheme of forever... ;)

Beth said...

Thank you for this post. I know that weirdness; that suddenly this stranger is your child.

Single PAP said...

Interesting post. How long would you say it took for them to feel 100% like your children, to feel like you do with your bio kids. just wondering...

lifeonplanetearth said...

Weird or not, I'm crying none-the-less. You got me.

Leslie said...

I totally agree--it is weird! The most amazing thing is that they put their hands in ours and trust us to be their parents! Those first hours and days are surreal. Thanks so much for sharing yours! :)

NatalieEbigScott said...

Beautifully written, Cat. Love you.

Thankfulmom said...

This is a fantastic post. Thank you so much for sharing it with all of us.


Jillienne said...

Great, GREAT post! Very well said....teary eyed here from remembering.....

Abby said...

Fantastic post. You put tears in my eyes.

Andrea said...

Gosh, isn't it true?! It IS weird! Great post! Thank you for sharing.