Dustin and I tossed and turned all night; it was difficult to sleep knowing that in the morning we would finally get to meet Marya.
She was supposed to get to the guest house at 9:00 am, but Dustin and I had already showered and gotten completely ready by 6:30 am. We sat around watching the clock trying to make time pass more quickly, but willing something to happen and it actually happening are two very different things; and so, time ticks slowly by as we waited in eager anticipation.
In pictures and videos you see online the initial "Gotcha day" is always such a happy, blissful, magical, and almost euphoric moment.
Luckily, I had read and researched toddler adoptions, and I knew that they were very difficult for the children because unlike babies that have no idea, nor care, as to what is going on, toddlers are very aware of the changes. Toddlers also are at an age of stranger anxiety. Also, unlike older children that are adopted, who have been explained what is going on and what to expect, toddlers do not have the ability to understand the changes. (note: If you are considering adopting a toddler, I recommend reading "Toddler Adoptions: The Weaver's Craft" by Mary Hopkins-Best).
In addition, older children have the ability to repress their feelings. They too feel scared, anxious, and even sad, but they can hold these emotions in, while toddlers can't. I have read and heard that older children will rebell and lash out, but that it usually happens after a "honey moon."
Toddlers do not have a "honey moon." If they are scared or unhappy, they do not repress those feelings, they let them out.
So, I knew to expect a somewhat emotional start, and I worried about how I could console Marya in her confusion with my limited Amharic. I understood the reasons that our daughter may react these certain ways, but I hoped and prayed we would somehow avoid the dramatic outbursts that typically surround toddler adoptions.
Although I had read the literature and the studies, the recommendations and explanations, it did not make it any easier to endure for any of us.
When the children came through the gate at the guest house, all of the anxious, awaiting parents stood and waited, looking for their little ones....cameras flashing and videos rolling.
Marya was being held by her nanny. Her hair was up in a bunch of little ponies, and she looked absolutely adorable and also terrified.
I walked up to her. I had been dreaming of and planning out this moment, and how it would all play out. I had learned my Amharic phrases. "Salehm Marya." I said as I fought back tears of so many emotions.
I handed her a little pink doll just like one of the ones we sent her in a package. She took the doll but looked scared. "Lay-ah-zesh?" I asked her..."can I hold you?" I asked to her as I reached out my arms. She looked skeptical, and why wouldn't she? She doesn't know me. I look different, dress different, and talk different than what she is used to.
I handed her a nutrigrain bar (as another parent had told me she LOVED them), and I picked her up in my arms. She took a bite and looked nervously back at her nanny, then back at me.
What was my poor baby thinking? Who is this lady? I don't know her. Where am I?
This little girl had been through so much. In her rural town her parent's likely had spoken Tigrinya. She had been abandoned at a church. God only knows what she endured in that first year of her life, and how long it was before the police found her.
Then, she was brought to a care center where she knew no one, and had never been before where all her care providers spoke to her in Amharic. More unfamiliarity! More traumatizing events!
Then, she was flown on an airplane several months later to Addis and brought to yet another unfamiliar care center with new people.
Constantly being uprooted, constantly enduring unexplainable changes,...obviously, she would be apprehensive about leaving anything she recognizes. I knew all this....but as she began to cry my heart felt crushed, and I too could not hold back the tears as they splashed down my face.
My poor little girl and all you've endured. Mommy is here now, and I will never leave you!
Dustin and I tried to distract her, but it was no use. I knew this grief was something she would have to work through.
We retreated to our room. I tried to calm her with my pathetic attempt to speak Amharic "NIM-min-EYE-dal"..."It's okay"...."Ah-tah-free"..."Don't be afraid."
My attempts to speak Amharic brought her no comfort. I held her, sang to her, rocked her, and comforted her , but it seems to make no difference. "Eh-wah-de-shaloh"..."I love you" my sweet baby girl.
It was so difficult to watch a child so upset, and even harder to watch my own. She cried out the names of her nannies, and I tried to explain that they weren't here.
Gradually, the tears and crying slowed down, and Marya started to show signs that she realized that we were here to stay.
She asked for me to put her down, but then grabbed for my hand and led me to the bathroom mirror to look at ourselves. That was the first act of her reaching for me, and it was so powerful to me!
She was still upset, but she wanted me to see something; she wanted to communicate with me. It was then, that Dustin and I started to see Marya's adorable personality unveil...
There was a closet door in the bathroom, and she closed it, it popped back open and this time she closed it harder. When it came open yet again, she started scolding the door and slammed it shut again. Dustin and I laughed.
I was crouched down at her level when she grabbed her blanket, walked over to me, thew her blanket over my back, and laid down against my back. My poor little baby is tired.
In Ethiopia, the women carry their babies on their backs. I have been told that they do not do that at the care center, but laying on my back seemed to immediately sooth Marya, and she stopped crying and fell asleep-exhausted. Dustin helped me tye the sling on to make it easier to hold her.
As she slept, I continued to cry. I felt so horrible for everything she was enduring, and I felt inadequate as a mom because I couldn't prevent it from hurting her.
Marya slept for 2 hours. She was so sound asleep that after the first hour, I moved her to my chest so I could just look at her and watch her sleep. She was so peaceful now, but I feared that when she awoke, the tears would return.
We had gotten traditional Ethiopian food to have for when she awoke, and to my surprise, she woke up in good spirits. She ate the injera and the noodles we had made. She refused to use a sippy cup and pushed it out of the way to use the regular glass cup.
She was very particular; she didn't like it if any food spilled on her, and she would immediately try to clean it off.
The first time we saw her beautiful smile was while she was eating. She smiled with everyone and even shared her injera with daddy, feeding it to him. It was magical; it was amazingly beautiful!
We went outside with Marya, and she came completely out of her shell. She was running around talking to all the kids, chasing the truck we brought, throwing the ball to Dad, drawing with chalks; it was perfect! We relished her happiness and her smile was so big it was contagious.
Some of the other kids left the play area, and apparently, that triggered something in Marya and the crying returned. We returned to our room to console her.
The crying didn't last as long this time. As she was already upset, we decided to give her a bath. Sometimes water play can work to sooth children, but it had limited relaxation effects on Marya. When I wrapped her up in her towel and held her, she stopped crying. After her bath, we put on lotion. I had read that it was important to have skin to skin contact and eye contact with her to help with attachment. As I applied the lotion, I had her help me, and she LOVED the lotion! She kept asking for more "Enay" she would say. "You want more lotion?" I would ask. Then, she said "Lotion." Dustin and I almost fell out of her chair. Her first English word!
Marya and Dustin played with stickers. She would point to the one she wanted, and he would pull it off the page. She would put it on his arm or her arm. It was adorable. I asked if I could have one and held out my hand to her, and she gave me this smirk, walked over like she was going to give me one; then, turned and gave it to her dad and smiled. "You little stinker" I said playfully, and she laughed. How funny!
"Can Mommy please have one?" I asked again. She held out the stickers, not to me, just in front of me; then, turned her head away like she wasn't looking, but she looked back over her shoulder to see if I was going to get one. It was hysterical, and she knew it!We all laughed together, and she shared the stickers.
Marya loves bananas. We had some with our dinner, and she ate three of them! She also likes fruit snacks, and even ripped one in half to share with me. She is so sweet!
She really is such a doll. She LOVES her daddy; if he leaves her sight, she cries. If he isn't there though, I am a good substitute. She thoroughly enjoys teasing her mommy!
She is learning and understanding English so quickly; it is absolutely amazing. If you tell her to put a toy back in the bag, she will do it. If you hand her something and say "Bring it to Daddy." She will! It is incredible! She is extremely bright!
She enjoys music too. She sings to herself, and when she hears music she starts dancing and smiling. She also enjoys touchy-feely books and bubbles (but has to do it herself).
By the afternoon, Marya would give us kisses (of course, she would pretend I couldn't have one first...hilarious). She is quite a comedian!
That night, after we got ready for bed, I rocked her on my chest. She was asleep within minutes, and she slept all night (12 hours).
Our gottcha day definitely didn't go as planned, but the progress we made was phenomenal. Every smile meant even more to us knowing the emotional turmoil our little girl was wrestling with.
As she lay there in her bed, we watched her sleep praying silently over her. Thank you God for bringing this little girl into our lives; we ask for Your help Lord as we assure our daughter that she can trust us. Please help us through this transition. We asked that You let her know that we love her, and we always will.