It was just over one year ago that Anne and I returned home from China with Sam and Ellie. And as I reflect upon our time in China, I am struck by how much I treasure my memories from those first days together.
I remember laughing at our first meal together when Sam and Ellie began ordering in Chinese… without Anne or I having any clue what they were saying to the waitress. (We were fully prepared for a dinner of cupcakes and ice cream.) I remember Anne hugging a tearful Ellie while Ellie looked at pictures and grieved the loss of her beloved foster family. And I will never forget the experience (or smell) of warm vomit rolling down my leg and into my shoe when Sam had his first… of several… bouts with car sickness in the back of a Chinese tax
But more than any specific event, I remember what it felt like to be there. I remember an amazing sense of purpose and clarity. Those days in China are some of the few days in my life where I had zero doubt about where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing. It felt like I was in the literal center of God’s will for me.
7,000 miles from my normal life, I was fully present and ready to face the unique challenges of each day. I was hyped up on prayer, adrenaline, caffeine, and a steady stream of encouraging Facebook posts from home to keep me going.
While the stresses and distractions of home can dull the clarity, it did feel like there was a wake of purpose and excitement that lasted for several months even after we returned. There is a certain amount of celebrity that comes in the early days. With each first introduction to family members or friends, I was reminded of how “amazing” the kids were (and we were by extension.) Every Facebook picture earned a ton of Likes. Pictures on my computer desktop at work garnered oohs and ahs. And every time we opened the front door, it seemed like there was a new casserole or pot pie waiting for us.
To be clear, there was a lot of hard work in those early days. A steady stream of visits to Children’s hospital. Paperwork and follow-ups with our social worker and agency. Fights with insurance companies. And the day-to-day work of integrating two new kids into the existing patterns of sleep and meals and discipline.
But the hard work of those early weeks and months still retained some of the nobility of purpose. It still felt like we were actively “adopting” them. The paperwork may say that we were already their parents, but their hearts (and in unspoken moments late at night, even ours) sometimes said otherwise.
And then there is Day 366.
The end of the first year represents a transition. There are no more encouraging e-mails or lasagnas on my front porch. The novelty of my new children has worn off at the doctor and the dentist and we don’t even get extra stickers any more from Leticia at the grocery store. By all accounts, I am no longer “adopting.” Now, they are just my kids… which is exactly what this entire process was designed to achieve.
Yes, Day 366 is different. There is less applause and fewer casseroles. But “Likes” on Facebook are replaced with something far more important… love.
I have been in enough adoption classes and read enough adoption books to know that my goal is supposed to be attachment. To be transparent (with apologies to my amazing social worker), that’s not my goal. My goal is love.
I love them! I love Sammy’s scratchy voice when he yells “Daddy” as I pull into the garage at night. I love the paper crowns that Ellie makes when she calls me “King Daddy.” I love playing with Sam and his “kicky ball” in the backyard. I love reading “Elephant and Piggy” books with Ellie on the couch. From Sam’s traditional exclamation of “Surprise!” in the morning to the last hand motions from “Jesus loves me” when I put them to bed at night, I love them all the way.
And miraculously, they seem to love us back.
So while it may be quieter in Week 53 then it was in Week 1, there is no less certainty that what I am doing today is something that matters. I need to occasionally be reminded that the clarity of purpose I experienced last year in Guangzhou is just as true and available on a random Tuesday in Cincinnati.
The work to be recognized as their legal guardian is complete. The journey of being their dad has only begun, and I love this part of the journey (but do occasionally miss the pot pies.)