The day finally came, no days left on the countdown. I worked the overnight, drove back to Maine, piled up the kids and we took off for Boston. I have to admit my exhaustion and our overly busy schedules have not helped me increase my excitement, not to say I wasn’t happy she was returning home, but I had no energy left for celebratory pre-excitement either. I dozed on and off on the way to Boston, waking up to answer messages from families that had far more energy, and much lower walls built up than I did. When we arrived I greeted the families and felt their electric energy fuel me for the day. We waited what seemed like forever after the plane had officially landed (but seriously it was over 2 hours, customs is rough).
While I waited I stood staring at the customs door, peering through the window for any glimpse of yellow. I feel the lightning bolt through my heart over and over at each false alarm of a yellow scarf or blanket being carried. Maybe this kept me awake, maybe it was the swaying back an forth like a psycho plotting some strange outburst, either way the racing thoughts didn’t slow as the moments dragged on.
Like all families who are hosting for a repeat visit, I wondered how well my performance had been maintaining a relationship with a girl across the world. How supported did she feel by our family as she endured the long, cold, hungry months away from us? How effective were our translations across the internet wire. How tight was our red string tied today? Would she slowly appear from customs, avoiding eye contact, stoically side hugging us with a well practiced brave face? Would she overly assist a peer to create a wrinkle in time long enough to get her bearings before the big shift back into her family? Would she just run out into our arms like she was just woken from a bad dream and carry on as if we were never parted? The possibilities are endless in the reactions the kids have when they get off the plane, tired, hungry, and anxious.
Finally I saw the golden river flow through customs, as our yellow shirts appeared, the lightning sparked and voices thundered with the crescendo of excitement. Cheering, screaming, hugging loudly commenced in an explosion of anticipation. The battle field of love was around me, I stood from the back to take it in. The new faces blank with overwhelming stimuli, stood with their families without making eye contact. Our wonderful chaperone whispered Russian words of encouragement and assurance. He spoke English words of advice and handshakes of support. The month of magic was just beginning, and like our first hosting, it was exciting, terrifying, and super awkward. For us though, our girl lead the brave warriors through the gate, breaking the barriers of time and galloping into the arms of her siblings who had been anxiously waiting.
“MILLIE!!!!” she screamed as she scooped her up her mini-me. The bond between them is indescribable, their hearts so closely fused an ocean can’t bring distance between. Hugs and kisses all around, as she looked up to see I was not standing with the rest. She swam through the sea of flying hugs, kisses, and tears to find me. She thew a long awaited tight hug, her smile shown so bright we could clearly navigate the rest of our journey from it’s strength. Her happiness illuminated truth through every doubt I’ve had during the last few months of miserably floundering fundraising fails. The doubts that have crept in, the irrational negotiations the devil inside me makes considering perhaps I should offer her to a family that can get her home faster, a family more successful than ours, someone that can really give her the best opportunities, all shown to be lies with the clarity her smiles revealed. This is our daughter, she is OUR family, there is no one else that can give her what we can, some things ARE priceless. She belongs only to us. I have to press on.
The families were all photographed, and excitedly started their trek home, and our family bounced through the parking garage to the van. The giggles and smiles were packed so tightly in the van you couldn’t help but breathe them in. All the way home they told stories, video chatted friends, and told their inside jokes.
But my mind was somewhere else.
My mind was with a dear friend, and many like her who did not pick up her daughter with us. A woman who started her journey the same as mine, a wonderful summer building her close relationship, and climbing anticipation as each document was checked off the list. My mind was with the absent, not of their own fault but purely bad luck. Their red strings have been sawed at by the evil, although even Hades’ scissors could never sever their gold lined connections. The fray shown clearly as they watch from a distance, checking constantly almost as if to torture themselves with the photos of where they should be, but weren’t. The warm messages they throw congratulating us on our fairy tale, as their nightmares spiraled around them. The longingness to be with us that day, to pick up their own daughter, to wake up from this dream and have it be just that clearly beams through every crack in their heart. Their empty beds remind them of reality in their winter season, cold and empty, like their tired bodies as they push through another day. Messages of heart ache sporadically arrive from Ukraine, the clear grief that cannot be processed through a ‘mistake’ that was really no choice at all. Will there be a shift in wind enough to blow sufficient bravery to stand up to authority and shift gears back to the path of planned happiness? I don’t know how their story ends, but I do know we have the obligation to hold them up, hear their broken heart songs, and send as much love as possible to them during the season of grief and uncertainty. These too are our family, and not every adoption story is a happy one no matter how much desire both sides threw in the pot. Sometimes the evil saws on their red strings, but their love is strong like a god, and no scissors can sever the string of true love. True love will always find a way, even if it turns into a story we could have never predicted, aren’t most stories told this way in the end? The only thing predictable about life is the unpredictability of it.
The walls I built were high, thicker than I realized. I dragged myself to the airport in Boston, I bled every dollar of hosting fees to make this happen, working so hard and questioning if this work should be allocated toward a permanent solution rather than temporary visit. The truth is, hosting is important. It is more important than I realized, and so needed for us all. It was not until we were home, our summer rhythm continued as it left off, that I realized we were playing with an incomplete band. Alina needed to come home, to be blanketed in love, nutrients, and reinforcement that we not only wanted her, but we NEED her. Hosting reminded me that the walls I keep up to give myself the ability to keep pushing forward as I watch my daughter suffer an ocean away are just for survival, short term. The compartmentalization is just work that will need to be done later, the grief will need to be processed, but in order to push through the most painful paper pregnancy, it must wait. For now hosting has given me a break, a relief from the chronic worry about a girl’s circumstance I have no control over, a minute to take a break from the false confidence I push out to the world, the self fulfilling proficy I hope will come true, “Be brave Alina, We ask for permission to bring you home”.
I can’t tell her when we will come, I can’t even tell her we WILL come for sure. Anything is possible in this world. All I can do is breathe for a month while my family is together and pray for a miracle that funding will come together, paperwork will be completed and approved before it’s too late. All I can do is soak up enough relief to sustain me until we can be together again, provide enough energy to keep lying to myself that I cannot worry over what I cannot control. Today I will live in my moment of relief that tonight and for the next 26 nights I will tuck in 6 babies, and be in control of their safety. Focus on what I can control and scream my desire to the universe that I will be brave enough for whatever is coming next, that’s where I am.
Today I’m thankful for all the hard work that every Host Ukraine member has done, from the families preparing and educating, to our beloved matriarchs of this crazy family Colleen and Sheela, the grandmothers of over 100 Christmas orphans. I’m thankful to the Ukrainian teams for translating, attending meetings, ensuring documents and getting all our children to the airport on time. I’m thankful to the orphanage staff that has done the best they can for our girl, and allowed her to return to us. I’m thankful for every family we have met, every mom that listen to me scream and cry, every sibling that shared a moment with my own children in solidarity, and every mom trusting enough to let me hold her up through the tears. Thank you to everyone that donated to bring our girl home for Christmas, and to everyone that will work to help us bring her home forever. We are all in global community, and if not for Ukraine’s orphans we wouldn’t be here in this moment. We must continue at 100%, even if failure is an option and frustration seeps in, because (as one of my best friends Lisa says) you never regret the love you gave. Hosting changed my life.
A pot of coffee, a gallon of tears, $7k away from completing phase one, and I’m ready now to go get our Christmas tree. Stay tuned.