Two years ago on a Palm Sunday we arrived in Addis Ababa to see these two gorgeous faces for the first time in person. And to say goodbye to them again, for an unknown length of time.
We emerged from the airport on a beautiful Sunday- clear skies, sunshine everywhere. That smell- that Africa smell that is like nothing else in the world: people, earth, flowers, smoke, sun. I breathed deeply and felt instantly at home. Even before we left the airport we got the call from the social worker; are we ready to meet our children? YES. Yes we were. And: sweaty, smelly, exhausted, jet lagged, absolutely terrified. I don't show many people the photos from that day (they will not be in this blog). They are not framed, just as you would not frame or display the photos of yourself or your wife just after labor and birth. Sweaty, red faced, looking terrible, and also beside yourself with happiness.
It is a very odd thing, to meet your child and then leave them for months.
It is also a very odd thing to adopt a child. I mean really- they don't look like you, they don't smell like you, they didn't emerge from your body after months and then hours of labor. You emerged- from a car, from a plane. You entered their house. We spent months, years waiting for them... they were just innocently living their lives until tragedy changed them.
When we met our children they were not our children. Not yet. They didn't know that we were special to them-- except maybe they did. We wore nametags with their Ethiopian names on them. The older children read the names, and we think they told Daniel- hey, these white Americans have your name on them! Lily spent much of our visit chewing on my nametag. (It is now one of my prized possessions, a chewed-up baby-saliva stained nametag.)
We spent most of our visit pretending to be nice people who were visiting to give out presents and stickers. We played with and cuddled all the children. Indeed we could hardly keep them off us. I had at least 2 in my lap at all times. But, when the social worker came to take our photos for the Embassy, I pulled my son onto me and held him close. Then I let him go.
We saw our children for about an hour two years ago on a Palm Sunday. Then we spent a few days in Ethiopia, sightseeing, shopping, going to court, breathing in African air. We left on another beautiful day, in the evening. We arrived with full, nervous hearts and lots of hope. We left with nervous hope that our return trip would be soon, so soon. We left secure that they were legally ours. We left knowing that they were healthy and well cared for. We left lots of medicines and creams and donations. We left a box of crayons and a soccer ball and a slinky and some stickers and silly sunglasses and whatever else I could find in my suitcase that I thought the children could possibly enjoy.
We left our hearts there.
On Palm Sunday in Ethiopian Orthodox Christians make crosses or headbands out of their palms. They wear the palms on their heads and process as pilgrims to church. Thousands of people walked through the city that day, visiting and worshipping and celebrating. Getting ready to fast and pray during Holy Week. Honoring the renewal of Faith and Hope that marks this moment in the Christian calendar.
That week in Addis Ababa I bought a tiny wooden cross on a thin brown string. I put it on, and I didn't take it off again until we arrived back in Africa 10 weeks later to take Daniel and Lily home. Like the palms the pilgrims wore on their foreheads, the necklace reminded me of my faith- in my children's continued health and well being, in this crazy process of creating a family called adoption, in the fact of a return trip, in their existence.
For those of you in the process of creating your family or creating your life: have faith. Even if you need to wear it on your forehead or around your neck to remind you of it.