Two weeks ago I was half way across the ocean with our daughter, who would become a US citizen when our plane landed. We worked our way through an impossibly long immigration line, got luggage that felt infinitely heavier than when I loaded it in Sofia, and dragged us all to the shuttle pick up spot, rain pouring on us both, coats stuffed into the luggage that I didn’t dare disrupt the precarious balance of. Finally, at 10:04 pm, approximately twenty hours since we had began our trek, we were heading home. Exhaustion and adrenaline, in equal measures, loaded us into the car to begin the dark, rainy drive home. I was counting down the minutes until I walked in my own front door, then had to re-start the countdown when I missed the exit that would shave 15 minutes from the trip.
“We did it, ” I kept saying to both Nadya and the Lord, and I suppose also myself. If someone had told me five years ago that I would head to eastern Europe alone, pick up a young child we had made our daughter, and made it back home successfully I would have thought that they mistook me for someone else. The drive home reminded me that I am the type of woman who can do these things.
The door was decorated with welcome home signs, and husband and pre-teen son were waiting there to greet us. The house was lit only by Christmas lights and my chorus of “We did it” became what is more true: HE did it. A Christmas miracle aligned just for us. It seemed both a lifetime ago and just a few short days when we sat in a hot office in Sofia asking if there was any way she’d be home for the holiday, and here she was.
I struggle with what to say about these first days. There were struggles and triumphs, all balanced with the new baby high and a slow release of the adrenaline that fueled our trip home. The fact is that Nadya has no clue what a family is, or how to exist in one. Our first days home were kind of a blur of trying to figure out where to begin. The things that normally comfort children scared her, we’d offer awkward attempts to comfort her from that and the cycle would continue. It’s painful to watch a child only know how to exist alone. Her internal clock was still on Bulgaria time, which meant she would wake up at 3:00 am at the latest, ready for the day, and then nap most of the daytime hours. We knew we had to let her sort all of the changes out on her own time, but that is so counter intuitive to a hands on parent. We took a deep breath and focused on getting to know each other. Best choice ever.
Here is what we see unfolding… and it’s breath taking to watch, we can see a physical difference in just two weeks.
- the little girl who didn’t know how to be held now throws her arms up whenever a sibling or parent walks by to be scooped up
- the little girl who would retreat into herself by putting her hands close to her eyes and shutting out everything around her now uses her hands touch our faces. She still likes to retreat, but pulls us close while she does so
- The little one who would remain silent in her hunger now cries to be fed
- Where she once was frantic and panicked at the end of her meal, scared of when she may be fed again, she now knows that the end of a bottle signals that it’s time to play. She does still yell a little, but no more panic.
- When she would lie in her crib, silent, upon waking, she now calls for us (not by name) to come get her
- Dry and strong smelling diapers have given way to soaked ones
- ribs are retreating into a round belly
- no eye contact has become tracking her family members as they move around the room and excitedly flapping her hands when they come close
- laughter. Oh, sweet precious laughter. It’s still infrequent, but it’s music to our ears. She loves to play and smile and clap and she waits for us to melt over her… and we always do
We did it. God, my husband, myself, our kids, our community. We did it. We have a lot left to do, but we are off to a great start, thanks to one indomitable little girl who shows us every day that love looks like something.
Happy two weeks, baby.