>Adoption Process: The waiting dance


Matisse, “The Dance”

Brace. Embrace. Brace. Embrace. And around we go.

International adoption, the process: It’s a dance, in many ways.
Not always an elegant, pretty one though. Not when I do it, at least.

But it has the same rhythms in some respect: reel them in, embrace, push them back, spin them off, oh! Catch them back and pull in again. I suppose it would be only fair to tell you to brace yourself: long post, sorting through the thicket…

A dance. But this dance is particular and it has several partners. It’s the waiting dance of imagining and fantasizing and then catching back to reality and both aching for it and wanting to seize it close, but also to push it back, spin it away because it’s just too big. And that’s just on my side, not even on this young girl’s part. She is my partner in this, as is Coffeedoc and all the kids here at home. But of course, this post is a rambling glide through the things I’ve been stewing about. So this dance, in this post, is mine. It is like this painting below, I am whirling with my own shadow at the moment, or the imagined ideas of life with my new daughter.

“Dancing with my Shadow” by Edward B. Gordon

And really, it’s all about the wait. And it’s different waiting for an older child. Because they have more a partnership in this whole process, in a way…even though you are strangers to each other, you are already inextricably connected in this bizarre dance of the process.

Hmm, I’m so jumbly, let me try to sort it out.
See, when you are waiting to adopt a child, a baby, domestically, you go through all the hoops and then you wait, seemingly endlessly, for that phone call. That part is much the same as international. [And yes, there are many ways to adopt in the States that might follow a different path (foster-adopt etc) but the basic process of domestic goes along these lines for the most part.] But with domestic adoption, you get that call, you world changes and you arrange to go get the baby. Wow. Hoorah! And it’s awesome!

With international adoption, you jump through more hoops and shred through more paperwork, wait longer for federal approvals and then wait for that call. And then the hard waiting begins. Because you are tied to a child. You have committed in your head and heart and on all sorts of papers. But you wait, on another country to approve and say, “Done. Come get your child.” Wow. Hoorah! And it’s awesome!

And when you are adopting a baby or toddler, internationally, you fret and you worry about them because they are so vulnerable and so needy and they just need to be held by you, to smell you and see your face again and again and grow into security, into family. And you race to get there because every day is precious and they are changing by the minute and you want to see and be part of every fleeting expression of wonder or worry.

But when you are adopting older, you do all the same things, really truly, of those adoptions above. But there is more. They have a whole life that has made them who they are, already. When you adopt an older child you know they know what is happening, to some degree, but don’t know how much they understand. They know you said you’ll be their mom and dad forever, but you worry, do they wonder where you are, why you haven’t come? And seemingly, they do. They write you a letter now and then, in brokenly translated English, and it says, “please come soon, I miss you!” And you know. You know, they don’t miss you, they don’t know you. They miss family. They miss a mom. They miss a home. There is a wrenching desperation under the sweetness of their letter. You want to pull her in, tightly embrace her, ache to whirl her into your arms.

And that’s when you remember. You remember being there. In this beautiful country, Ethiopia, the one that gets under your skin, forever. And you remember the smells and the sights and the tastes and the air and the light. And you remember, it’s indescribable, really. And then it hits you again, that this is the land, the home of your daughter, your new child. And she has to leave it.

And you try to imagine how to do that.
And you can’t.
You can’t even begin. So you push it all away, it’s too big to think of, fully and well. You spin it back, across the room.After all, there are plenty of spinning twirling things to catch your attention as you wait: packing lists, clothes to buy, rooms to arrange, donations to sort through, other families traveling, fbi lists, cheering for families, praying for others…not to mention, oh, daily chores and the minutiae of daily life with six kids in the house now and another calling from college. So you can do the daily two-step of your hectic life and kind of put the wait on the side burner. You have a month to court. You are in wait mode, right?

But then, usually for me, when I am staring at another 12 letter Amharic verb and trying to conjugate it and figure it out, it hits me again. Or, even more, when I get a letter from a traveling family and new friend and it is thrilling and then terrifying, all at once. It hits me.
I am reminded of Rebecca’s post on “it.” I stop. I am all but frozen in step. And I don’t know whether my gut reaction is to brace for it, for this huge change, for us, but more for her…or to embrace it close and let the achy push to go get her pull at me, even more.

How do I brace for her, with her? Or to embrace; it, her, all of it.
How do I do that so she will accept it?

Ack, I’m sure I’m not making sense. Unless, maybe you are in process, and it does make a little sense. But, an older child’s smile is much more complicated than a baby’s smile or a toddler’s smile. Not to diminish the trauma’s for those little wee ones. I have adopted four of them, I know. But, when a baby or even a toddler, gives you one of those bright open grins, and shines their gaze on you, it’s clear. It’s open. It’s simple. It may be hard earned, but once you get it, ah, it’s real.For an older child, I suspect it’s different. Not that that her smile or any of their smiles are less real. But there is more there in a way. When I stare at my girl’s pictures, I see her beautiful smile (And as objectively as I can be; she has a gorgeous smile!). But I know, I can’t begin to guess what is behind that smile. She has a life behind that smile, one that I’ve not been part of. I can imagine, I can wonder and worry; I cannot ignore what might be there. What will her smile for me, for us, be? How will it change, will it change? It’s so much to wonder, it’s so big. But once we are together, certainly at first, but maybe forever, I will have to do a flash judgment: where is she now, her heart and feelings?

And so we will dance. And hopefully we will be the best of partners. And we will anticipate each others shifts and turns. And I will try to push off that freezing wait fear and worry. And soon, soon, I will embrace her in my arms, brace with her, and embrace her for good.

But for now, we whirl and spin here, we brace for this huge change; anticipate bracing her – embracing her – and reach for her, from afar.