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Monday, January 28, 2013

So About that Momentous Trip to India to meet our Son for the first time...

     First of all, I won't apologize one bit for making you wait a month to hear about our trip to meet Holden.  There's been quite a lot going on here in the lowcountry -- with Chris preparing for an extended Marine Corps vacation and all. 
     I will say this:  If you're preparing for your first deployment, denial is an extremely effective coping mechanism in the weeks leading up to the big goodbye.  I've heard all sorts of stories and anecdotes about "coping with deployment", the range of emotions you'll go through, etc.  My main concern was the increasing irrititability, arguments, and "just leave already!" mindset that I heard were so very common before a deployment.  Thanks to a beautiful thing called denial, taking one day at a time, and our trust in a God so much bigger than our worries and fears, Chris and I were able to skip over all of that negative stuff.   We had an incredible couple of weeks together before he left.  We spent more time together in the last 3 weeks than we were able to spend in months.  It was wonderful.  We had fun, we laughed, we shared, we pretended that our lives were not about to change drastically for the next year.  And in the quiet moments when Chris was sleeping, or busy in another room, or sometimes, with my head turned away while driving in the car, I grieved him leaving.  When the day finally came to say goodbye, I kept it together fairly well, I think.  I told Chris, "Don't be surprised if I seem to be tougher about this than you expected.  I've already grieved your leaving at least 20 times in the past few months."  One of those times, we lay snuggled together, two nights before the big goodbye, and tears just streamed down my face onto his chest while I quietly cried, trying to soak up the moment and have that time be enough to sustain me for the next year.  Luckily, Chris was fast asleep, and when I told him about this the next day, he literally did not have a clue that his chest was soaked with my tears!  This is how I prefer it. When Chris has seen me sad about deployment or all the times he's not home and I miss him, it unintentonally creates this sadness and guilt in him that I don't want him to feel.  Of course, we'll both be said.  That's normal.  But I don't want him to ever feel guilty for the career he's chosen.  I encouraged him to go for his dreams, and I wouldn't have it any other way.  It's really hard, and the difficult times for us have really only just begun, but still, I hope I will always feel that this is worth it.  This is what he's supposed to be doing.
     Now that I've effectively outlined why I've been a little too preoccupied to tell you about meeting Holden, I'll finally start telling you about meeting Holden!  Here's how it went down: 
     December 19th, a week from go-time, we take a look at what the weather in Pittsburgh might look like.  (We planned to go see our families for a few days in Ohio and Pittsburgh first, then take off from Pittsburgh to Charlotte to D.C. to Qatar to Bangalore.  Yes, we know Pitt to Charlotte to D.C. makes no sense.  It's what the airlines had to offer, and since we're no rookies when it comes to wasting jet fuel, we bought the tickets.)  Hmm, weather doesn't look so great.  Possible storm hitting the Northeast on December 26th.  Oh well, we'll see what happens. 
     December 25th, after having a fun-filled Christmas morning with Chris' family, we start really looking into this whole storm situation and how it might affect our travel.  It's not looking good.  Six inches of snow, and more importantly, icy wintery mix is expected on the afternoon of the 26th.  We talked to the travel agency, and tell them we'd like to skip our first 2 flights in Pittsburgh and Charlotte and head straight to D.C. early before the storm hits.  Apparently, just "cancelling" our first two fights was going to cost us about $2,000 dollars.  What?!  All we want to do is NOT be on two flights... apparently, the "change fee" was going to be two grand.  And, if we simply didn't show up on the first two flights and arrived in D.C. on the evening of the 26th, they would have already cancelled that flight and called us no-shows.  They said the only way to make things work was to show up at the airport in Pittsburgh, wait for our flight to be cancelled there, and then book it to D.C. to try to make that flight on our own.  The extra special suprise treat we discovered was that the travel agent missed a letter on the spelling of our last names.  So... if anyone at airport security or on the airline caught it and realized our passports didn't match our tickets, we could be refused entry and have to re-purchase our tickets with the correct names, hence another 2 grand.  In talking to my parents on the phone about all of this craziness, I said, "The only way we are going to make it to India is if God wants us there."  I am happy to say that God wanted us in India, and we had the most wonderful two days with Holden -- better than we ever dreamed!
     We spent the morning of the 26th with my family doing our Christmas exchange.  It was a great time (well, other than my four year old niece puking on my brother and the floor!)  Minor details, we still had a fun time!  We watched the snow falling fast outside, our hearts getting a little anxious.  My parents were so sweet to lend us their automatic four wheel drive, snow-tired high-tech volvo to drive to the airport. The roads were pretty rough.  It took us twice as long to get there, and we saw several cars pulled over on the side of the road, and several others swerving and fishtailing alongside us on the highway.  We got there safely.  I stopped at the arrivals and departures screen before we checked our luggage, and it wasn't looking good.  Pretty much all the flights scheduled before ours had already been cancelled. I was thinking, it's just a matter of time before they call ours cancelled and we book it to D.C. and pray the weather doesn't slow us down too much.  We got in line, checked our luggage, and the guy at the counter said, "So far so good".  The gates were ridiculously empty.  Some whole sections of the airport were like a ghost town, with some airlines cancelling all flights for the next 5 hours.  Thankfully, we saw a flight right before ours sucessfully take off for Charlotte.  We looked at the weather map, and there was this beautiful hole in the storm that was expected to last until our flight took off.  We prayed for that hole... we prayed that God would part that storm like he did the Red Sea.  This might sound dramatic, but we so desperately wanted to get to India to see our little boy, and we knew that God could remove the storm if He wanted to.  After a long time de-icing, we successfully took off and headed to Charlotte.  After sprinting through the airport in Charlotte because our flight arrived late, and the gate signs were completely wrong... we made it to D.C. 
     In addition to making it through the storm, we made it to India and back without getting stopped regarding our misspelled names!  This was a praise for us, although I'm sure it has just made many of you way less confident in airport security...  Don't fear, just chalk this one up to God answering our prayers!  So we arrived in India at 3 AM on the morning of December 28th.  Supposedly, there was going to be a hotel driver waiting there for us.  No driver to be found...  Also, in the craziness of our few days before the trip, I had failed to write down our hotel address... I know, this was really dumb of me!  I had the orphanage address and phone number, but only knew the hotel name.  We couldn't get any internet access at the airport, which I still find really annoying for a city as large and tech-saavy as Bangalore.  We had to beg a guy at the tourist counter to look up the hotel address for us.  When it became pretty clear that no one was coming for us, I told Chris, "No worries, there will be taxi drivers everywhere outside the airport, we'll get there..."  I was right.  This is the beautiful thing about India.  It can be 3 AM around the holidays and there will still be a swarm of drivers waiting to get your business.  The other awesome thing was that the hotel employee's accent was so thick we couldn't effectively communicate with him, so instead, our taxi driver talked to him and between the two of them, he figured out where to go.  An hour later we arrived at our hotel.  We showered and got ready for our first day with Holden.  (FYI, if you're not used to jet lag or functioning on little sleep, I don't recommend meeting your child for the first time on the same day you arrive in a new country.  Chris and I are kinda pros at changing our sleep schedules and functioning on little sleep, though, so it really was not a big deal.  We're also pros at sleeping on planes.  I also think my excitement at seeing Holden wouldn't have let me sleep even if we did give ourselves an extra day there.)  So it's 6 AM and we're ready for breakfast and ready to start our day.  The hotel restaurant doesn't open til 7... we twiddle our thumbs, read, re-organize our stuff... try to get the internet to work, which it doesn't until a few hours before we had to leave India...)  Finally, it's seven.  Chris discovers that although he hates American coffee, he can't get enough of Indian coffee.  It is SO GOOD!  I looked up online how to make it myself, but I still haven't mastered it.  Seriously, visiting India is worth it just for the coffee... my mouth is watering just thinking about it!  Then, we decide to take a stroll on the streets.  The hotel receptionist seems really uncomfortable with this idea, but we just kinda said, "peace out, we'll be back in a little bit," and left.  I find it so amusing how fragile they tend to think Americans are, like we can't survive on the "mean streets" of India.  Honestly, I find India to be a pretty friendly place.  Yes, I'm sure there's crime, but is it really worse than the streets of Savannah or Charleston... ehhh, I don't really think so. 
     I was so excited to see Chris' reaction to India.  He was amazed at how many people and how busy it was at 8 in the morning, and we were way outside of the main center of Bangalore -- this was the equivalent of a suburb 45 minutes outside of a city in the U.S., and there were shops, cars, auto rickshaws, and people everywhere!  I love it!!!  Chris liked India too.  He said the main thing he didn't love was how hard it was to get American breakfast food.  He likes Indian food, but for breakfast, he just wants some pancakes and bacon or cereal.  Of course, his main concern would be food!  He also said he kept finding himself wanting to speak in English with an Indian accent, and then he'd have to stop himself, like, "wait, I don't have to talk like this for them to understand me.... this is just silly..." 
     Walking along the road was a little tricky because there were only rarely sidewalks, there's lots of trash on the sides of the roads, and cars and bikes drive all over the road, but we never felt unsafe or like someone was about to hit us.  Chris quickly realized that his initial plan at the airport of just "renting our own car" would have been a really bad idea.  When he suggested that, I raised my eyebrows and said, "You don't want to drive in India, trust me!"  I find it really fun to swerve in and out of traffic in little open air autos, honking and avoiding hitting people and bikes... I don't think I'd find it as fun, though, if Holden was with us and I was concerned for his safety.  In India, familes travel like this all the time, though.  Families of four will squeeze onto a moped and drive through town.  Overall, I just love India. I don't know quite how to explain it.  I'm naturally an introvert, so you'd think that all the people and busy-ness everywhere would drive me nuts, but it doesn't.  It excites me.  I just walk around with a big grin on my face, taking in all the colors, people, cars, noise, shops... it's incredible!  I think the reason it doesn't get to me, is that when I've been to India, I always have my own room to go back to if I need peace and quiet.  I like this contrast, I guess. 
     Anyways, we arranged to head to the orphanage at 10:00 to meet with the staff and meet Holden for the first time!  When we got there, we met with Mary, the director, and two other social workers.  They are the sweetest, kindest ladies.  They really tried to make us feel at ease and were just so welcoming.  I am so impressed with VCT.  You can tell these women really love the children they help care for and find homes for.  We talked with Mary for a little bit. She asked us how we like India, asked about Chris' upcoming deployment, and told us a bit about Holden.  Pretty soon, we found out that Holden had arrived with his foster mother.  They walk into the office, and I just can't believe this is really happening!  It felt like an out of body experience -- like a dream.  I just stared at this little boy, thinking, "It's really him!  This is the little boy I've been praying for and dreaming about meeting for a year!"  He was all dressed up in the cutest little traditional Indian outfit, complete with an ornate scarf around his neck.  He had gotten a haircut very recently too.  Not exactly the hairstyle I would have picked, but we were just so overwhelmed at the effort they had taken to "present" our little boy looking his very best.  It was like they wrapped him up like a little present for us.  I thought it was such a sweet gesture on their part, although he could have been in rags and we would have thought he was the cutest, sweetest boy in the whole world. 
     His foster mother is a tiny, reserved woman who is probably in her forties or maybe 50.  We found out that she has two grown children, and her grown-up daughter bought this special outfit for Holden.  They sat down with Holden sitting in her lap.  His foster mother understands a little bit of English, but her primary language is Malayalam.  The orphanage staff translated for us.  We asked how to say, "I love you" in Malayalam, and it was ridiculously hard!  I think I could practice for months and it still wouldn't sound familiar enough to Holden.  We also found out that his foster mother is a Christian, and they attend a Pentecostal Christian church every Sunday.  We were so surprised!  I thought for sure that his foster family would be Hindu.  For the past year, my main prayer is that Holden would receive unconditional love and know how special he is through his foster family's care.  Not only did God provide that for him, He provided a Christian family that is already teaching him Bible verses and praying with him.  I am so overwhelmed by the way God has answered our prayers and gone above and beyond what we ever could have imagined in His provision.
     After talking for a little while, Mary thought Holden was ready to be placed in my lap.  I was so nervous.  I said, "we don't have to if he's not ready, we could just play on the floor together first..." but Mary thought he was doing really well and would be ok.  Up to this point, Holden just sat very quietly and very still on his foster mother's lap.  He seemed very nervous and kept his head down, but he didn't fuss or whine or get upset at all.  He was just the most quiet toddler I have ever seen!  His foster mother placed him in my lap, and he continued to stay very still. He leaned back into me, but then he didn't move a muscle or look around at all.  The orphanage staff started snapping pictures.  I felt so nervous.  I was so scared he would burst into tears at any minute or start reaching back for his foster mother, but he didn't.  He kept stealing little glances upward with his big brown eyes while staying very still.  It was the cutest thing ever.  Eventually he started looking at Chris' watch.  Chris took it off and set it on the table in front of Holden.  Holden very slowly reached for it.  He'd touch it for a second, then look around at all of us, as if trying to figure out if this was ok.  Slowly, but surely, he got more brave, and finally he held the watch in his own hands.  Eventually, we put Holden in Chris' lap, and again, he did really well.  He just stayed very quiet and still and serious.  At times, Mary would try to get him to smile, and he would do his best to keep his face very serious.  It was really cute. 
     About an hour after we arrived, the staff said we could just hang out with Holden anywhere we wanted in the orphanage and just play and spend time with him.  We took him downstairs and kind of set up shop, so to speak in this small, empty playroom.  We pulled out a present for him -- some Melissa and Doug wooden cars.  Immediately Holden got really excited, reaching for the toy and making little noises to show he was interested.  I think this was the first time we heard a single peep out of him.  We unwrapped them and he went to town playing.  We knew right away that this little guy is smart!  He is such a problem solver.  He started taking apart the wooden pieces and then looking at the holes and spokes to see how they fit back together.  It took him about 60 seconds to figure out how to put the wooden pieces back on.  Soon, another little girl at the orphanage came into the room, and immediately, Holden started gathering up all three cars to himself like a typical toddler.  It was so funny to watch!  Within a few more minutes, he started making quiet little car sounds while he played.  The more he warmed up to us, the more cute little noises he made.  Chris and  I just sat watching in awe.  Chris said to me, "This kid is too good to be true."  I have to agree.  He is so smart and observant, and the most calm toddler I have ever seen!  As he got more used to us, he did toss his toys a bit, but when we told him to go get them, he would immediately do it without fussing, and then he quickly realized that tossing toys wasn't a good idea, because he'd have to crawl over and bring them back. 
     Later, we pulled out an F-14 toy that had a tiny button on it that made the jet light up and make noise.  Holden loved it!  The button was really hard for a two year-old to press and figure out, but he did.  Sometimes, he'd have trouble getting it to press down and work, then he'd hand it to us to have us do it.  We'd say, "You can do it" and guide his little finger to the button, and he would always try again without any whining.  In the two days we spent with him, this child did not whine for a single second.  We saw no tears, no getting upset... all things that are so typical for a two year old that I was sure we would see.  We really expected that this sweet boy might be in tears and an absolute wreck for the whole visit.  He didn't know us at all, but he had been told that we were his Mommy and Daddy -- there was a lot of pressure on this little guy! This was one more way that God blessed our visit more than we could have ever imagined.  The whole trip was nothing but enjoyable time playing with our little boy, holding him, feeding him, and getting to know his little personality.  Chris keeps reminding me that Holden could show a completely different side when I go to bring him home, and I'm fully prepared for that, but I'm hopeful that eventually we can get him back to the sweet, smart, easy-going, social little boy that we saw in the orphanage. 
     We were also amazed at how much eye contact we got from him.  With virtually every new task he would do or new toy he would play with, he would look up at us to see our reaction.  He always seemed to be "tuned in" and wanting to know what we thought.  He also went to us for help on multiple occasions, which was so sweet.  Another thing we realized was how FAST he is!  As one of my adoptive friends put it, "If he has a disability, no one told him!"  I really don't think he notices that he's different at all.  I know that won't always be the case, but I love that nothing stops him from playing, having fun, or exploring the way he wants to.  He is so social with other kids too.  He would always crawl up to the other children who lived at the orphanage and start babbling, pointing, and trying to communicate with them.  On several occasions he said some English words, like ball, good, doll, and some colors.  I think he will pick up on English very quickly.  The sweetest thing we got to see was how much his older foster brother and sister love him, and how much he loves them.  His foster brother and sister are about 7 and 5 years old.  We went downstairs to where the big kids were, and immediately, Holden got really excited and started reaching for them with a big smile.  They were so excited to see him too.  They wanted to hold him and pinch his cheeks.  It was adorable.  I hope that someday we can reconnect with them in the U.S.  I know they just very recently came into foster care, so it might be quite a while before they are adopted.  They are seriously the cutest, sweetest little kids, and I can't wait for them to be in their forever family.  It made me so happy to see that not only does Holden have loving, attentive foster parents, but he also has the sweetest older foster brother and sister to love on him.  I think we'll have to do lots of playdates to give our social little guy the interaction he craves. 
     Despite how much Holden enjoyed being on the floor playing with toys, if we picked him up, he would immediately lay his little head down on our shoulder, and put his arm around us.  I have never seen a toddler who adjusted to change so quickly.  It was like he could immediately flip this switch and go from play time to snuggle time.  I think he is a very laid-back, adaptable child, and that's probably in large part due to the changes he's had in his little life already.  I think my biggest concern for him is making sure I create an environment where he feels safe enough to show his emotions.  I feel like this child has responded to all the change in his life by being a people-pleaser and very adaptable.  I think these are good coping mechanisms, but I just don't ever want him to feel like he has to hold things inside.  Maybe I'm reading too much into this, as he's only two years old, but still, I just want to make sure that he feels comfortable enough and loved enough to be who he really is at all times.  I want him to know that I'm willing to go to the hard places with him and help him work through things.
     We got to have lunch with Holden on both days.  I think the staff was kind of surprised at the way we fed him.  When they fed him, they would hold him up away from the food and just shovel it in themselves.  We held him on our lap close to his plate, and assisted him in using the utensils and feeding himself.  The staff said this was probably the first time he had ever used a spoon and fork.  If that's the case, I was really impressed with his skills!  Lunch definitely took longer this way, as he struggled to get enough food balanced on the spoon with each bite, but he was pretty good at it.  He's also the neatest little toddler I have ever seen.  When he got a grain of rice stuck to his lip, he would notice right away and wipe it off.  He's a very careful eater.  He can also drink from a regular cup without spilling... crazy!  He's not a picky eater and seemed to have a good appetite, but we are really going to have to work to help him gain weight.  He is a tiny little thing.  I'll definitely be taking him to a dietician once we get home to figure out the best way to fatten our little boy up.  His weight puts him in the 6-12 month range, and this was his weight at 26 months!  I know he is very well cared for.   I just think he'll need extra support, and also getting him into a wheelchair should help to keep him from burning quite so many calories. 
     What else can I say about this trip?  Our little boy is perfect!  I am so in love already.  I know I'll be in the honeymoon stage for a while, and he'll certainly have his imperfect moments, but I think I'll always believe he's the closest thing to perfect on this earth.  He's adorable, smart, attentive, quick, a problem-solver, social, laid-back, a snuggler... what more could you ask for in a two year-old?  When I look at him, I just wonder, "how are we so blessed?"  We are the luckiest parents in the whole world.  This is definitely not a rescue mission.  He is not a "sad little orphan"  He is incredible.  He is strong and resilient and we need him just as much as he needs us.  WE are the lucky ones.  WE are the blessed ones.  He is perfect.  He is this beautiful, amazing gift that we will never deserve.  And somewhere, there are a birthmother and birthfather that I'm grieving for.  They are missing out.  They have lost this wonderful, amazing child, and somehow Chris and I have gained him.  It's not fair.  It's really not.  I know that I had nothing to do with the reasons he couldn't stay with them, that I couldn't have fixed things and made it all ok, but still, I don't ever want to forget their incredible loss.  Adoption is joyful and amazing, but it is also sad and not the original plan that God intended for families.  I believe God grieves with them, that he never desired for children or families to go through this incredible loss.  I also believe he can take the sadness of this world and use it for good -- that he absolutely will use this for good in our lives and Holden's life.  So today, while I am overhwhelmed by God's blessing and goodness in my life, I am praying for healing and blessing in Holden's birthparents' lives too.  


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  2. I don't know how I missed this post, but I'm so glad to have read it! What a beautiful time you shared before your husband's deployment . . . God has truly answered so many prayers to make this visit so wonderful.