I missed you!!! Thank you to my sis for updating while we were away and thank you all for the support! I didn't realize the power of my virtual circle of friends until I had no access to you.
This post may be a bit scattered, as I'm a bit jetlagged and have only been home a few hours but am forcing myself to stay awake until this evening with hopes of making tomorrow at work a smooth transition. I'll include more details per day in future updates, but wanted to jump right in with a recap of our trip to hopefully offer some insight to the other familes who will be traveling twice. It may be a long one, but I'll try to hit the key points and move on. The focus will be on Wednesday, our court date.
It's important to note that because we were the first family to travel twice, some items here should be taken with a grain of salt because many logistics are a work in progress. For example, we were also the only family in country so cultural events did not happen and will be worked in to our second trip (other families will do cultural events on first trip; bonding on second). Also, we were appearing in court on behalf of an infant adoption. I believe the process (both court plans & Gladney plans) will vary for toddler age & above.
First bit of advice: Take the tissues ladies! I cried each day for a completely different reason; some good, some not so good.
Monday: Arrival Day (do our own thing)
Grabbed our driver and started exploring. The sights, sounds and smells of Ethiopia are like no other. Very powerful.
Tuesday: The Niko Meeting!!! (one hour in a.m.) happy tears all around!
I must say, I was more intimidated and anxious to meet our son than I was to meet the judge on the following day. There are no words to describe him. He's perfect! (there's a good word) He warmed to Kai after awhile but is not a big fan of moi. I must say that I liked the way he looked to the caregivers to see if we were 'okay'. He will one day look to me the same way. I'm not worried about it and had to laugh. It means he's on track for proper attachment. However, after 18 months of waiting for this day - yes, a smile would have been nice instead of 'who is this lady & when is she leaving?' looks!!! ha! It's all good :)
Wednesday: court (9am @ Gladney office; 9:30am in court; seen at 10:15'ish)
Court is held in a nondescript room on the second level of a government office building. The waiting room is medium size with approx 10-15 folding chairs lining each wall for adopting parents and birth family members. Along one wall is a door to the judge's office which is much smaller, containing the judge's desk, a table and a few chairs. The various agencys' attorneys stand in line outside this door on behalf of their clients and are called in by the judge's assistant. On this day, there were three other agencies with about 9 families in total awaiting their court dates.
As we waited (30'ish minutes) you couldn't help feeling the tension of extreme emotions in the room; family loss & growth happening with each family's exit of the judge's room. I felt the stare of a woman who I noticed immediately upon entering the waiting room. She appeared to be a grandmother, possibly great-grandmother, of a child being relinquished. Wrapped in a worn blanket and more than worn shoes, she continued a heavy gaze my way. I connected with her and tried to offer my best "OMG woman, I want to run across this room and give you the biggest hug" smile I could muster, considering I was ready to burst into tears. She stared back, smiled and gave me the warmest, most all-knowing 'everything is okay' smile with a nod. That's what put me over the edge. I smiled back humbly with a reply nod, turned to Kai and the tears started to flow. In the background, the other families were passing with happy tears and gentle cheers, while trying to respect all others in the room.
Shortly after that we were called in front of the judge. A very nice woman who asked us the following:
1) Why did you choose to adopt?
2) Why Ethiopia?
3) What preparations have you made?
4) Have you met this child?
5) Have you told your family about your adoption?
6) Have you completed any training?
7) Do you understand this contract can not be undone once approved?
8) I AM APPROVING YOUR CONTRACT!!! (happy tears)
Dressing for Court: biz casual
I saw men in suits & ties and men without ties in nice dress pants. Kai wore a tie (not in pix but he put it on when we got there) with dress pants and no jacket.
Women had a wide range: open toed sandals with casual mid-length skirt and leggings to a skirt/jacket suit with closed toe heels. I wore a full-length cotton dress with scarf & light sweater and closed toe shoes with hair pulled back.
The key is to be respectful.
Thursday: The Niko Meeting Part II (one hour in a.m.)
This went much better. We came a little earlier this morning so we didn't cut into his much-loved naptime. I think this had a lot to do with his energy, which was great. He was a little more curious about who we were, played a little more with us, still warmer to Kai than me but today I offered to feed him the end bit of his bottle. This got me a few little pats on my arm from him as he drank. *heart melted* He is THE BEST!
Following this, we had the priviledge of delivering care packages and meeting with the kiddies of waiting families. Oh my! This was amazing! These kids are thriving, happy, full of energy and in the best possible care while waiting for their moms & dads to arrive. What a program Gladney has put in place and with such care of keeping the child first. Love it.
Friday: more exploring and working on creating Niko's life book
Gained more info into Niko's story. These children have such heartbreaking stories, it just makes the mind spin. How is this okay??? Hearing more details brought out the mama-bear and made me want to run back to the care center, squeeze him and never let go. The children are so much stronger than we can ever imagine.
Saturday: The Niko Meeting Part III (one hour in a.m.)
Wonderful!!! Again, we came earlier to avoid any naptime interference which appeared to be key. This was our best meeting yet. These times are not intended for bonding, so as not to confuse the children once we leave, so a lot of play is involved with other children around. Niko interacted with us so much with loads of smiles, bouncing, clapping, raspberries and the almighty baby-belly-laugh when Kai tickled him. I even got a few smiles from him!!! I want this kid home NOW!
So, this was our final meeting which brought on tears. However, there was so much information from the staff re: our next trip, what to prepare for, how short our turnaround is, etc that I walked out on such a high note, thinking - This was much easier than I ever expected. Maybe it was because we spent three meetings with him, not just one. Maybe it was because our embassy date was so soon that we would be back in country in 16 days. Whatever it was, we left happy - not sobbing the big ugly cry, which I expected.
However...later that evening (still feeling more excited than sad) our hotel shuttle arrived to take us to the airport. There it was. The ugly cry came in full force on the way to the airport. We had two layovers coming home and the same thing happened on each plane as we took off. I think it was knowing we were moving further away from him that did this. It was so fast & furious and then Kai would pull up a few photos of the trip and again say, this is our happy place. It helped a lot.
We even put a photo of Niko in the empty middle seat, with his seat belt securely fastened, on one leg of our trip home. :)
I think the key thing to remember is we've all been in this for 18 mos+ and it sucks beyond words to leave our child there but the positive news is that they are OURS and we are THEIRS, finally!!! You will be leaving as parents!!! And yes, three to six weeks is tough when you've met, played and hugged your baby BUT we're tough and if we can hang in there for a year & a half, we can make it three to six weeks longer.
(so she says. we'll see tomorrow.)