Today we met our girl. It was more than we could have hoped for.
I’ll start when we arrived in Ethiopia. It was about 2 AM.
Inside the airport, I was suddenly struck with a mixed sense of guilt and pride. Pride in what a beautiful person Judah has become. He’s only 3, but he makes me feel proud. In almost a school-girl-silly-excited way, I was excited to share his joy and belly laugh with Ethiopia. Yet, the larger part of me, felt guilt. Guilt for taking him away from this beautiful country. The first little stab happened at the airport restrooms. Yes, we were barely off the plane. The sweet woman who takes care of the restrooms smiled warmly at Judah and said “I love you, baby.” Judah was happy. In America, I know that he will have so much opportunity, which I am very grateful for, but he will not have restroom attendants say that they love him. He will not face love with each turn he takes. Walking out of the restroom, we filled out immigration paperwork. While we completed the paperwork, Judah found two friends to play with. I looked at the three Ethiopian boys, all the exact same size, flying their prized Turkish Air airplanes and laughing. Again, small stabs of pride and guilt. Next, we went to get our Visas. Judah made friends with the people working there. They played with him and teased him. He was happy. I was happy.
I think that I was so focused on the tasks at hand. Taking him to the restroom, immigration, visas, money exchange, luggage, spotting our driver, that I was unprepared for the emotion until it consumed me. I walked out of the airport and tears flew. Yes, I tried to hide them.
This was not an ugly cry moment, perhaps because I didn’t realize I was crying until I was wiping the flow from my face. It actually took me a moment for my brain to catch up to my heart. Almost three years ago, I was standing right here. Becoming Judah’s mom for the first time. Overwhelmed and happy. With our friends. The air felt the same. We were here. To meet our girl.
We got to our guesthouse, a mere 32 hours after we left our home. Judah stated, in a matter-of-fact style, “My home is beautiful. Ethiopia is beautiful. Our view is beautiful.” I felt joy from my toes to my hair and taking one glance at Tommy, with his sleepy-dazed-happy eyes, I knew he did too.
We slept for a few hours. I woke up quite a few times, counting the minutes until we could hug our girl. We got up at 7, took showers and got dressed. My nervous and tired mind questioned everything, even my simple outfit (I tried to figure out which colors would make me appear less intimidating, I went with purple, not sure why). We went downstairs and had breakfast. The beautiful girls at the guesthouse gave us toast with jelly, eggs, oatmeal and coffee. They gave Judah tea, which he thought was the most special thing that could have ever happened to him.
Our friendly driver arrived a few minutes before 9. I had butterflies about meeting my daughter.
I remembered visiting hours started at 10. We were running early. The rule follower part of me was happy when there was traffic and happier when we got lost. I needed to prepare myself for the moment. The moment that I have spent months obsessing over and had no plan for. At the same time, I didn’t think I could physically handle the prolonged anticipation. I’ve been waiting for months.
When we pulled through the gates, all the children came to greet us. I immediately recognized her. She did a sideways glance at the car and remained seated on the steps. The nannys took the children to a classroom in the back corner. Judah ran to play on the playground a few feet away. Sister told her in Amharic.
I kneeled down. She came over and leaned her tiny body on my leg, kissed my cheek, threw her arm around me and started gently playing with my hair. I smiled and told her “I love you.” The most beautiful voice in the world replied, “I love you, mama.”
My heart stopped. It’s been 12 hours and my heart has still not recovered.
She is beautiful. She just sat with us and gently stroked my back and played with my hair.
Tommy played silly peek-a-boo and eyebrow raising games. Her laugh was quiet. She hid her face and wrinkled up her nose.
Judah and A were so sweet to each other. They kissed one another. She quickly found humor in how easily he laughs and even humored him by playing on the playground with him.
Mostly, she seemed to prefer sitting on my lap and gently stroking my hair. I would point out a bird and a few minutes later she would point out a different one and say “bird” in the sweetest voice you’ve ever heard.
Realizing that my sweet husband had let me, not only have the first minute, but the first hour, I went to find Judah (who I found happily playing with kids and requested that he have some time to play without me). In the short few minutes I was away, Tommy taught A how to use our camera (not a simple one) at a much greater proficiency level than me. She ended up taking about 120 pictures. I’m thrilled that over the next few weeks, and when we return, she can document her life here.
I don’t know how else to describe it, but I’m addicted to Judah. Touching his hand or leg, smelling his hair, hearing his voice or laugh, even just fleeting eye contact with him, are all my “fixes.” I love everything about him. Completely.
I knew that I would feel this way about A. I even gave myself a timeline. 6 months (to be renewed every 6 months, indefinitely, until I felt it). I prepared myself. If I didn’t feel the magic initially, I would eventually.
I felt it.
I am so happy that I get to spend the next two weeks with her. I am already heartbroken that I will have to leave her. Tommy is too. Tommy, A and I sat together and it just felt magical. The song, Home on the Range (you know, where the deer and the antelope play) was playing in the background. We sang. I felt home.
Please know, I realize completely that I have written all of the above from a completely selfish perspective. Although today was magic for me, I know that one day I will talk with A about today and will hear a very different story. She was brave and loving and beautiful and more than I could ever dream, but no girl should have to go through what she has gone through and what she went through today. She had no choice. As she sat on my lap, I felt her two little bones dig into my thigh and gently rubbed her back. I searched her face, her heartbeat, for the fear I knew was possibly overwhelming to her. I couldn’t see it. I hope she tells me. Some day. It’s too much for any person to carry alone.