Today is my birthday. It is also the day we brought Leyla home from Ethiopia last year. I can’t imagine a better birthday present. Thinking back on that day and the days that led up to it, there were both feelings of joy and expectation for us and bittersweet feelings for those she left behind. We visited Leyla each day while we were in Addis. The day before we needed to return to the states, we were able to take her back to our hotel with us. (It was a wonderful hotel recommended by the Greek Embassy in Addis – you can find a link on the side of the blog. We would highly recommend it.) Going to pick her up that last time, we were filled with excitement. It had been hard to leave her each day although we knew that was best for her transition. Leyla had a regular caregiver who we did not immediately see when she arrived. She was also surrounded by children of all ages who were waiting for their parents to come and take them home. Two other little girls were going with their families on that day.
We were greeted by the director who is an amazing man. He is an Ethiopian lawyer that has focused his considerable talents and energies toward helping the children in his country. He is an inspiration. It is clear he loves each of those children he is charged with and they him. Leyla was dressed beautifully for the occasion. When it came time to take our leave, I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. Leyla’s regular caregiver came out and it was clear she had been crying. She kissed us all and retreated to her room. It broke my heart. But I reminded myself that is was wonderful that our daughter had been surrounded by such love.
Then it was the children’s turn to say good bye. We had enjoyed playing with the older kids during our visits. There was one little boy of 4 that we were particularly drawn to. He had a smile that lit up a room and was a fierce little soccer player even though the only place to play was the cement drive into the courtyard. He came and hugged Leyla with tears streaming down his face. He them went back to the other children only to come back and hug Leyla tightly a second time and shower her with kisses on her little round face. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes as I watched. I took comfort in knowing that some wonderful family was coming for that sweet little boy soon.
We were subdued in the ride back to our hotel as we were faced with the reality of the loss that is part of every adoption. We loved our daughter already so much but her journey to us was not a simple nor an easy one. We then needed to shift our focus to the preparation for the 33 hour trip back home although the thoughts of the intertwined joy and loss remained. Traveling with an infant who has never traveled that type of distance without knowing their routines or how to comfort them is a daunting task. We worried needlessly. Leyla was a trouper. She wanted to look at everything and seemed to enjoy making eye contact with as many folks as possible.
We arrived on my birthday. Our boys met us at the airport with our friend Jon and flowers. When we came up to our house, Jon was kind enough to take our first picture as a family of five – it is the one above. You will notice that Leyla has her hands firmly in her brother’s hair with a twinkle in her eye. That moment was the first indication of many how well and easily Leyla became part of our crazy family.
After I got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the 4 year old boy who had been so sad when we left with Leyla. I told the story to my adoption coordinator and asked if she could reach out to his family and see if they would be willing to stay in contact. What I found out amazed me, the little boy was adopted by a family about one hour from our home. We were able to visit them all over the summer. He is doing great and his story is in the blog “Another Markquart” linked on the side. He shares a birthday with his mother – another beautiful connection.
There have been so many on this journey. Another amazing year has passed. I feel so blessed . . which takes me full circle to why I feel compelled to share through this blog and give back. My birthday wish is that everyone find the joy and peace that comes through being part of something bigger than yourself and doing what you can to leave this world a little better place than you found it. Happy Birthday to me!