Four years ago today we arrived home in America with our children. It was a very, very hot day. It had been chilly in Ethiopia (July is rainy season), so we were all dressed in long sleeves and pants. At the airport, my sister asked me, "Don't you want to change?" "No", I said. We didn't have any clean clothes left. And anyway, the last particles of Ethiopia still clung to our clothes. I wasn't ready to get rid of them, not yet.
Daniel had learned a handful of English words: hungry, mine?, mom, dad, plane, America. He pushed all the buttons on the little TV screen on the back of the chair in front of him hundreds of times. He fell asleep across two seats wrapped up in a green blanket with dinosaurs on it.
This week the dinosaur blanket is with him at sleep away camp. It's probably crumbled up in a mess on the floor of the cabin he is sharing with 9 other boys. He's probably spending the day swimming and boating and playing games. He will not remember that today is our "Family Day." And that is just fine, because we've been working very hard for the past 4 years to make every day, Family Day.
When we arrived at the airport 4 years ago, we had so much in our arms. Bags and blankets and bottles and a squirming, teething just-learned-to-walk toddler. We lost the little cup that Lily was used to drinking out of somewhere in the German airport. We ate our first non-Ethiopian meal at McDonald's. With his meal Daniel got a little spinning toy from a children's movie we still haven't seen. A couple of years later, that too was lost.
By the time we landed, Lily was wearing her last clean onesie, and probably the last clean diaper. She'd drunk every ounce of formula, downing bottle after bottle. The exasperated flight attendant filled with warm water every 1/2 clean bottle I handed him, hour after hour. The women flight attendants let me stand up, Lily strapped to my chest in a carrier, until the very last second before we landed. 14 hours of flying and she was not a very happy 15 month old.
Our paperwork was stamped. We walked through the doors. We were met by our wonderful, patient family. The children played. We were all delirious. We got into our car (and the wonderfully helpful man at the car park helped us fix Lily's car seat strap, which was too small). We drove home. Lily played a game of spitting and making noises with her lips. They both laughed hysterically. We arrived home. We carried us up the stairs and showed the children their room. We bathed. We ate the mac and cheese my mother and sister had left in the fridge for us. Another bottle was made. The midnight bottle was prepared. (Oh how I forget how little Lily was, she still woke for night feedings those first few weeks.) We slipped them into new pajamas and settled them into their beds. Lily slept in the pack and play in the living room because her mattress was too high. They slept. Andrew and I opened beers and sat quietly in our little office and grinned at each other.
We did it. 4 years, 1/2 a foot of paperwork, two international trips, hours and hours and hours and hours of waiting and work...We were a family. We were exhausted and proud and terrified and deliriously happy.
I think everyone feels this way, that first night. And then the rest of your life begins.... It's only sometimes that you remember to stop and marvel at the miracle that is your ordinary life.
4 years later Daniel has now been in our American family as long as he was with his Ethiopian one. He's spending the day playing with friends and doing whatever 9 year old boys do at camp. Lily, who is now the same age that Daniel was 4 years ago, is upstairs in her Princess Ana dress playing with her dolls and waiting for me to make her pancakes. This week we got an email reporting that although their first harvest was poor, our Ethiopian family is all well. The children are all in school. The new baby is healthy. They are enjoying a good rainy season.
A very ordinary, miraculous life.
Happy Birthday, little family.