In one way, finally coming home with my daughter after two years of searching and waiting for her is the end of the story. In another way, it’s just the beginning. Angel found herself in a foreign land with her new family and I was in my own foreign land, suddenly thrust into the amazing world of motherhood.
In the weeks that followed our arrival home, Angel was happy and curious to learn as much as possible about everything in her new environment. Communicating was much easier than expected. In practically no time, she was able to easily whip through picture flash cards with words like “spoon,” “water” and “blanket.” When we would watch TV, she didn’t hesitate to ask about words she didn’t understand. She was courageous and eager to explore new things. For instance, she was boldly ready to dig around in this curious substance outside called, “snow,” despite the extreme hot weather climate she had known all her life.
While she was joyfully bonding with her new grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, she was also, understandably, very shy around strangers. We spent every minute together, 24/7, during my eight week family leave from work. When that time off came to an end and I had to be away from her to go back to work, I felt like an emotional wreck, at least temporarily.
As a woman longing for a child for years, I had some preconceived notions of what being a mom was all about. Most of it was on target. However, what I wasn’t prepared for was the intensity in which it changes your heart. Of course, I looked forward to cuddling, laughing and playing together — all the fun stuff. But I never imagined the mundane tasks that the role also brings would be so enjoyable. I literally could not get enough of my daughter…and still can’t. I miss her every second when we’re apart. Perhaps it’s because we are making up for some lost time.
Eventually, we established a comfortable routine. I’m so grateful to have family and close friends nearby who are wonderful caretakers and Angel is settled in at a school we both love.
Her first day at school was a tough one…for me. I cried after dropping off this terrified child who had no clue what school even was, let alone having to face all these strangers for the first time. For several weeks, it was hit or miss at drop off time. On the tougher days, she would hide behind me and put a vise grip on my leg.
She might as well have put the vise grip on my heart. It was painful to pull her off and walk away, knowing how petrified she must’ve been, especially considering all the changes she had recently been through.
Flash forward to present day… I’m beaming with pride, tears again in my eyes, as Angel is all smiles accepting her diploma at Pre-Kindergarten graduation. After the ceremony, she is running, laughing and playing with her classmates. She talks about her friends at school nonstop and can’t wait for summer play dates. Her teachers, who have been remarkable, tell me what a joy it has been to watch her growth. She was the shy, silent kid in a cocoon, who right before our eyes, blossomed into a social butterfly.
(For those of you who hate moms who think their kid is the greatest, please skip the next two paragraphs!!) Now is my moment to brag about just how remarkable my little girl is. At the risk of sounding annoying, I have to marvel at all her accomplishments: latching onto a new family, moving to a foreign country, learning a new language, adapting to a new culture and now, successfully conquering her first year of school while making many new friends in the process. Angel really is an angel. She saved me as much as I saved her. She has brought more joy and laughter to my life than I ever thought possible. Not only for me, she also has changed the lives of my parents, siblings and entire family more than I ever could have imagined. You can’t help but smile when you look at her sweet face.
I’m constantly impressed by her courage, adaptability, intelligence and contagious laughter. The phrase I hear from her more than anything else is, “I’m happy! Mommy, are you happy?” Her little wheels are constantly turning in that brain and she is empathetic beyond her years. She is an old soul.
That being said, there have been a few rare moments of adjustment in which she wasn’t all smiles. It’s not uncommon for children coming from orphanages to have a fear of abandonment, for obvious reasons. Although these instances have been few and far between, they pack a punch. Something as simple as me taking out the garbage, going to get the mail, etc., has, at times, instilled panic. I always tell her if I have to step out of her sight for even a few seconds, but I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes she can be distracted in play and not hear me.
Those are the times she has come running out and angrily scolded me, “Mommy, don’t you ever leave me!” I also heard one time, “Mommy, I thought you were dead,” muffled through sobs.
It pains me deeply that her past life experience has allowed her mind to go there. Her fears are weakening however, and I know her security will continue to increase in time. As cliche as it sounds, all the child development experts agree — love really is the greatest healer. It’s also an important, comforting reminder for anyone considering adoption or just getting acquainted with a newly adopted child. Love heals.
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t know details about her life before the orphanage. I do ask her frequently about her life in India, because I don’t ever want her to forget about her heritage. I’ve learned just a few tidbits, including the fact that it stormed a lot during her years in Mumbai; many of the other kids didn’t always want to play and that made my daughter sad; and when kids cried, they were given chocolate to soothe them. The most impactful thing she told me about the orphanage, “I missed you, Mommy.” When I followed that up with a question about the other kids around her, she replied sadly, “They all miss Mommy’s.”
Gulp. I pray they all find loving homes.
We’ve been together for a year and a half now. My life has changed 180 degrees. Free time that used to be filled with social events downtown has been replaced by swimming lessons and soccer practice in the suburbs. Everyday is busy, stressful, chaotic, crazy, and a ball of fun. Everything and anything she goes through, I experience vicariously and my feelings are magnified. I’m constantly worried about her wellbeing, yet that newfound anxiety takes a back seat to the unexplainable joy in my heart. I never realized you could feel so many seemingly contradictory emotions simultaneously. Welcome to parenthood. I can’t imagine life without her.
The other night I was reading my daughter one of our favorite books, “I Wished For You,” which is the story of a Mama Bear without any cubs who struggled alone before she was finally able to adopt her own baby bear. I can never get through the whole story without getting choked up.
At the end of the book, Angel asked, ” Mommy, did you wish for me?”
“Yes! Yes, I did,” I told her. “Just like Mama Bear. You are my dream come true.”
“Mommy,” she said sweetly. “I wished for you, too.”
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