There have been some really hard days, weeks, and months over the past few years. It has been challenging learning to parent children with trauma; and it has been challenging to help Matthew navigate life with siblings who came fully formed and opinionated and highly needy. It is a unique experience to parent children who were born to different parents and, similarly, a unique and difficult challenge for children to learn to become the offspring of new parents. It has been a journey of peaks and valleys, to be sure.
Not long from now, Lizzie marks another anniversary of sorts - the point at which she will have spent as much time with Geoff and me as her parents as she did with her first father prior to her life in an orphanage. That's a startling and sad realization for me because, having loved Lizzie for as long as we now have, I simply cannot imagine the pain of losing her, or the pain she must have endured in the loss of her father. All too often the focus of adoption is on the adoptive parents, who have waited and waited and waited for their family to be created or completed. But really and truly, that lens is better and more appropriately turned elsewhere - to the story of the first parent(s) and, mostly, to the experience of children who have been uprooted and transplanted from one life into another with no say in the matter.
These are the thoughts that colour and complicate my perspective on today and temper - not lessen, but balance - my joy over being a family three years together. Today Geoff and I celebrate the blessing of being the parents of three beautiful and complicated and fragile children; and today we will celebrate being a family for three years. But I've changed over the past few years: The first year we went all out in our celebration of anniversary #1; last year our celebration was already significantly moderated. And this year, while we wish to mark it, it will be in a small way, and in way that is mindful and respectful of everything, not just the perspective of a blessed adoptive parent, that has transpired in order to reach this day. Because as blessed as Geoff and I are, our blessing came at great cost, and there is no doubt that in the minds of my children they know well both sides of this coin that we call adoption.
The last time the three of us stood together before braving a whole new world as a family of five. This was taken at our guest house in Addis Ababa, just before we climbed into the van to bring our two new children into our lives.
This picture makes me rather sad, to be perfectly honest. There's such an innocence in Matthew's face; in my face, too. We were so excited, and Matthew was about to realize an answered prayer: A brother; and a sister. We had no idea what we were about to launch into. Neither of us had any idea that the following 2+ years would prove so terribly difficult for my first-born. I have a hard time looking at this picture...just the two of us against the world, not knowing how radically life was about to change.
And then...here...our children coming towards us, about to launch into a brand new life that would simultaneously rip them from everything familiar and introduce them to the life and the people that they now also love. What a mix-up of emotions. Oh, they were so small, so defenceless, so beautiful, so precious. What a gift they are to us...what a gift they were/are to their first parents.
Our first picture as a family of five. The start of a new chapter for all of us. I look now at their little faces and see clearly what was harder to see then. Knowing them as I now do, I can see now the fear and uncertainty in their eyes...and who could blame them? I can see in Seth's eyes the defences and walls that would take the next two years to crumble, that still require constant care. I was suddenly feeling rather overwhelmed myself in this moment, being the brand new parent of three when, just an hour before, I had only one child to be responsible for. These children spoke not a word of English, knew nothing of what was to come, and both they and we were perfect strangers to each other...and yet somehow, suddenly, we were made a family. Despite all of the attention given to adoptive parents prior to their children entering their lives, nothing really prepares one for this moment, or the thousand to come, perhaps particularly when it comes to older child adoption. Though they don't look it, Seth and Lizzie were just a few weeks from turning six and four here.
Experiencing a first play time with new siblings, at the guest house, about two hours together as a family. They didn't need a common language to share in the fun. I do think that, despite everything, Seth and Lizzie were tasting a little bit of freedom here, having not left the orphanage or transition house compounds in the year that they spent there other than to travel from one to the other after we passed court and legally became their parents. For my active, out-for-adventure, up-for-anything, highly energetic children, this moment and many to come must have felt so remarkable; scary and unfamiliar, undoubtedly, but also exciting and adventurous. Lizzie and Seth were hardly to take those back-packs off over the coming days and weeks and months...they were so attached to their few possessions.
First bedtime: New pajamas and new family.
Arriving at the airport at home, after a 31-hour journey and only two days after taking custody of Seth and Lizzie. Tired, so glad to be home, unaware that after years of anticipating this moment, life after the airport was about to change dramatically from what we'd known until that point.
And...fast forward three years...to these very days.
They have been three years chock full of transition and growth pains, as well as much love and joy and excitement. I am so very blessed to be the mother of these three beautiful, impish, intelligent, curious, remarkably-well-adapted, life-changing, shockingly adorable, loving, funny, well attached children. We're great together, the five of us! I love each of them with everything in me and and I can't imagine life any other way!!
Enjoy a few last pictures from the past month or so.