This business of adoption/soul healing is exhausting. When we finally got Lenia home, three plus years after meeting her, I had no illusions about the work we faced, just as I had none when our biological children were born. After all, I am a pediatrician, right? In both cases, it turns out having wide open eyes and no illusions do NOT equal adequate preparation for the journey ahead. Children do not come “complete, with instructions for assembly.”
Lenia has now been home almost six months. In many ways, we feel she has always been a part of our family. In others, well. . . We are not in diapers, but Greg and I have found the energy expenditure required quite similar to earlier newborn stages we have experienced. Our newest child needs near constant care and devotion. Our prayer is that in this constant care and devotion the seeds of healing and love will take root and begin the long process of growth and maturation.
Raising children is an enterprise full of joy and opportunities for learning through both successes and failures, triumphs and trials. To give this post a bit of structure, I though I would present a “top ten list” of lessons we are learning alongside language and culture in this amazing first year. . .
1. It does not matter how often Greg or I traveled to Haiti prior to Lenia’s homecoming; no matter how much money we spent, time given up at home, events missed, nor patients frustrated with Greg’s or my absence. There is no way to even begin to understand the sacrifices and loss Lenia has endured to be a part of our family. Adoption is centered around loss at its core.
2. Safety may well be the most important lesson of this first year.
3. Shyness/timidity/fear does NOT equal rude or insolent behavior. Everything, everyone, everywhere in her life is new, unchartered territory for her. Just going to Pete’s Diner for breakfast the first time was completely overwhelming, not to mention hot showers, air conditioning, dogs as pets, and unlimited access to food, water, electricity. Americans are by and large direct communicators. We like eye contact. This is not the typical way of a Haitian child (nor of many Haitian adults). Lenia is learning her value and worth in our family and community with every new person she meets or interaction she has.
4. The amount of time I did get to spend with Lenia in Haiti was a great gift. I spent more than five weeks each of 2012 and 2013 with her, then almost 4 this year before bringing her home in May. I am so grateful she first tested me in Haiti, first showed me her sassy attitude in Haiti, and first bonded with me in Haiti. She trusts me, a little, already. She also already knows me and has experienced me consistently in Haiti and at home, and that is a big deal. Having a bond established with me has provided her room to more easily build trust with her daddy and her sisters. I believe at almost six months into this, we are actually doing okay! There are not words to properly express my gratitude.
5. Love is NOT a feeling. Feelings are transient. Love is an action word. Maggie and Emma Grace and Ally and Abbey accept Lenia as one of them without hesitation or question. They LOVE her just as ferociously as they do each other. While Emma and Maggie have bossed her around a bit, Abbey and Ally have guided and doted and tolerated, as is their way. They have all chosen to love Lenia, intentionally and truly. Lenia knows she is safe with her sisters, and she trusts that. (Safety being so important. – see #2) Love is an action word. A choice. Greg was not as sold on adoption as I was when we began this journey some three and a half years ago. When we realized adoption was in God’s plan for us, we both assumed we would add a boy to our family. That April night I called home and said, “Well, (gulp), we have another daughter,” he never faltered. He chose. He prayed. Daily. There is no difference among any of his now five daughters. He loves each of them completely, truly, and with every fiber of his being.
6. “No” is not a dirty word. Based on instinct alone, we decided we would not allow Lenia to do away from home sleepovers for a good long while. We want her to know her home, her bed, and her place in it before venturing away from us. This rule has naturally been met with loud protests, but, you see, we are learning safety (see #2). We want Lenia to KNOW she is safe here with us before any attempts at separating (however developmentally or age appropriate) from us are made.
7. We have an adolescent “toddler.” #Leniaisanexperientiallearner#shetoucheseverything We are not sure whether it’s a “Lenia” thing or a “Haitian” thing; we just know our thirteen year old new born uses all her senses to explore her environment. The first time she saw a curling iron? “Ooh! Mommi! It hot!” Well, yes, Lenia, that’s why I told you not to touch the metal part with your fingers. . . The first night Lenia spent on American soil was in a hotel room in Miami. She had literally NEVER before experienced warm/hot water coming from a tap. Once I helped her find an agreeable temperature? Longest. Shower. Ever. Lenia also touches her daddy constantly. I think she is learning, still, that he is real, that he is trustworthy, that he will never leave her, nor hurt her.
8. There is BIG joy in discovery. A few examples:
- Our dog, Gus. He is an 85 pound golden retriever who believes he is a lap dog. Lenia knew approximately three domesticated dogs before coming home, none as big, furry, or insistently friendly as our Gus.
- Bicycles in good working order.
- The English language.
- Having her very own things.
- Seasons. Lenia has now witnessed leaves changing color, felt temperatures below 65 degrees.
- Fahrenheit, and seen snow for the very first time.
- The zoo. Thank God our Knoxville Zoo is so amazing.
9. Adoption is, at its core, centered around loss. Adoption is also a human model of redemption. Lenia is loved. Lenia is BE-loved. She is safe. We pray that with faith and time and consistency she will come to realize the eternal depth of true safety in a relationship with Christ Jesus, the One who brought her to us.
10. Haiti calls. Three plus years waiting is a long time. Once Lenia came home I wondered how I would feel about going back, if I would even want to go back without her in Camatin, waiting on me to visit. Lenia, it turns out, is not the primary reason for Greg and I traveling to Haiti more than four weeks yearly (between the two of us). She is a reward.