I was reading an adoption-related article recently, and there was a feature on a particular couple. I don't remember the main content, but what struck me is that near the beginning as the article introduced the couple, it said, "They have one son who lives in Ethiopia." I thought to myself, "Wow, that's cool. I wonder what kind of work he does in Ethiopia, maybe mission work?" Then I saw a picture of the couple and thought, "Hey, that's really strange, they look so young to have a grown-up son living in Ethiopia!" Then I read a bit further and realized their son is actually an infant, living in Ethiopia, while they live in the U.S. Even though we are intimately familiar with this scenario and international adoption, the ludicrousness was still striking. I mean in what world do infants and young children live entire continents apart from their families? But, I know of many families besides us living out this exact scenario right now as they await the approval of the U.S. government to be able to bring their children home.
My 3 year old daughter lives in Ethiopia.
The American embassy sends us emails with her name that includes our own last name tacked right on to the end of her first name, she's officially on our health insurance, her monogrammed hooded towel hangs on a hook in our kid bathroom next to her brothers' and sister's towels. But she does not live here with us.
That yet is huge because we are very thankful to have reached a point in our adoption where her homecoming may just be a few weeks away. But it is a very odd, tough place to be living apart from your young child.
I've bought her Christmas presents, guessing what I think she might like, but fully realizing I really don't know my daughter. I've spent a grand total of 3 hours with her, spread across 3 different days, nearly 4 months ago. Isn't a mother supposed to know her child better than that? I have no idea what her favorite color is, favorite animal to have on her jammies, favorite princess for her little toddler panties. What makes her laugh? What is she like when she first wakes up in the morning?
I've been to a few kid parties lately to celebrate the birthday's of my kids' friends, and oh how I pity the mom I'm meeting for the first time at the party who innocently asks me how many children I have and how old they are. There is just no short answer to that question, and what she thought was small talk turns to the topics of orphans and third world countries and adoption roadblocks. It has actually become an interesting social experiment to me (hee! hee!), because in my experience people react in one of two ways at this point, either they are very excited and enthusiastic, interested to hear more and full of questions OR there is a completely awkward silence when the poor other mom has no idea how to respond and looks so completely relieved when we are interrupted by a child who needs something!
I know that most likely this living-apart-from-my-daughter is short-lived, that we will be able to take custody of her soon and begin to get to know about her all the things parents typically know about their children (well not everything, of course, there will always be parts of the first 3 years of her life that we'll never know). I've heard that once she's been home a while, it will be hard to even imagine life before she was here, that this waiting for her to come home will be a memory, rather that our reality.
I also believe that there will come a day when we are not living one day at a time, not knowing exactly when we'll wake up to an email that will give us permission to bring our daughter home, the day when we'll frantically book tickets to Ethiopia on just a few days notice to go get our daughter. There will be a day I don't have to respond to all requests with, "I'll be there next week, if I'm not in Ethiopia." There will be a time when we don't have to explain to family members who want to make Christmas plans with us that we have no idea where we are going to be around Christmas time (even though it's less than a month away) or what life will look like for our family this Christmas.