You often hear stories about a parenting meeting their adopted child and it’s love at first sight. It happens. But, more often are the stories you don’t hear. The love stories that are won after many battles, the love that grows slowly, day after day watering with no noticeable progress.
These stories are so much more complicated. They’re not shiny and fairy-tale like. They are the stories of tears and sleepless nights. Prayers and painful questions. Recognizing the hurt of a young child. And the deep wounds and the inadequacies of an adult.
But, while I hesitate to share it, Reed and I are one of those stories. Reed came into our relationship hurting. Cognizant that I was another woman in his life. Who was I? How long would I stay? For me, it was more like he ripped my stitches out. As some people would say, he pushed my buttons. Opening up old hurts and frustrations. Creating new ones.
Honestly, we seemed incompatible at first. Most of the time, we drove each other nuts. I wanted so badly to control him and manage him, not considering his strong willed personality. Only made worse by people who told me that I need to win and make sure he didn’t think he was the boss.
He was never interested in me. He would pick anyone else’s attention and affection over me. Even if we were alone, he would just ignore me, if he had everything he needed. We would both celebrate the moment Aaron got home, giving us relief from our long days together.
For months, we just plugged on. I did my best to fake it. Meet all of his needs, hug him and kiss him. We’d play together and I’d walk away frustrated and exhausted. Other people would tell me how wonderful they thought he was, only twisting the knife a bit more. A reminder that it was just our relationship that was broken. Still, we plugged on.
The milestones were tiny.
One day, he drew me a picture.
Another day, he’d grab my hand out of nowhere, holding it as we went on our walk.
He’d do silly things just to make me laugh.
When he broke his leg, he let me hold him when his leg hurt late at night and we watched movies together.
One day, a friend pointed out how nervous he looked when I walked out of his view.
I woke up one day and realized I wasn’t faking it anymore. I hadn’t been for awhile. My love for him was real. I was not longer acting out love because I knew we both needed it. I was being affectionate, and doing things for him and spending time with him because I loved him.
Now, it seems like he draws me at least two pictures a day. He asks me to play with him all the time. We love to read books together. I enjoy poking him whenever we pass each other. And, it’s not uncommon that he grabs my hand or wraps his arm around my leg when we go on walks. Sometimes, I just like to sneak up and tell him I love him, which makes him run away in embarrassment… smiling.
We still have plenty of moments where he drives me nuts, or he gets mad at me, because he got in trouble. Plenty. He’s 5. We’re both human.
Recently, I picked him up out of the car and swung him around. As I reached to help Lena, he wrapped his arm around my leg unexpectedly. “What’s that for?” ” ‘Cause I love you.”
I wrote this for myself, as a reminder of how far we’ve come. And to share with my friends, who are at the beginning of their complicated love stories.
Reflecting on this whole process, as I’ve read and edited this post over several days, I realized it doesn’t end here. I am not done with this sort of difficult love. A reminder that I especially need to love people in my life who seem incompatible with me, who seem impossible to love and who I think may never love me back.
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
“Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
I’ve had a couple of people ask me for advice about Moscow recently. Here are some travel tips…
Pack: There are lots of great packing lists out there. Here are a few of my musts:
- Cold Medicine & Pain Relievers: I NEVER take these at home… I am not sure I took either one once in the US over the last year, but I desperately wanted cold medicine(specifically Nyquil) in Ukraine and I have taken pain relievers almost every day here.
- Water: Pack a few bottles for here or U. The water is not safe to drink without boiling first. You might be too tired to go out and get it your first night and you will need it!
- Snacks: Eating out twice a day here is expensive and we do not have any way to cook in our hotel room. In U, there were times when we were just too tired or wanted something from home. Here, it has saved us a lot of money. We have a large breakfast, which is included in our accommodations, go out for one meal and then snack for the other meal. Not really the healthiest, but it is the cheapest way we have found.
- Tape Measurer: To see the size of your kid. We didn’t need it this time, but that is an exception. It is nice to see how tall your kid is and know what size you will need for clothes.
- Two pairs of shoes: I thought I was being a smart packer when I only brought one pair of shoes to U. I got blisters the second day and was miserable for awhile. This time I brought a pair of snow-appropriate winter boots and a pair of slip-on shoes, great for the airport, hospital and a short walk. All is well.
Moscow/Peking Hotel specific:
Eating- The hotel restaurant is really expensive. Go for a walk and food is much cheaper. Within a few blocks there is Il Patio, Pizza Express, and KFC. There are also a ton of coffee shops and restaurants which are all in Russian. Our favorite is Pizza Express. It is on the cheaper side, but has lots of options. If you walk out of the Peking Hotel, go to the right, then turn right on the main street. Walk for a few blocks until you see one of the tunnels which goes under the streets. Go through that, go out to the left, and it will be about a block up. Just ask “English” when you walk in and they will give you a menu completely in English. Il Patio is okay, but more expensive. KFC has all kinds of chicken and fries– comparable or maybe a bit more than it is in the US. There are also a lot more restaurants if you walk down towards Red Square. On the way there are a lot of American chains– Starbucks, Cinnabon, McDonalds, TGIFridays. Down by the Kremlin, there is McDonalds, Sbarro and others. I am certain that there are tons of great Moscow-owned restaurants with English menus, but we did not have much time, money and energy to explore. There is also a grocery store that you can walk to. Turn left as you walk out of the Peking Hotel, walk 3 blocks up. The Slovek House will be on your left (it says Slovensky Dom in Roman letters). Walk down to where that street ends (2 or 3 blocks) and the grocery store is down inside that mall. That is a good place to buy snacks. You probably won’t want to lug water all the way back to the hotel, so buy it at one of the little stands right outside the hotel. You can bring your own grocery bag(reusable or plastic) or pay a few cents for one there.
Internet- You can pay for wireless in your room, but it is expensive. It is free in the lobby of the hotel, the hotel restaurants and most restaurants you will eat at. I spent time trying to figure out if we could get the wireless card to use in the hotel room cheaper elsewhere and that was fruitless.
Safety- There is a lockbox in your room. We put our money in it. The cabinets also lock, so we put larger things, like our laptops in those.
Tourism- Of course, it is worth it to walk down to Red Square, Kremlin and St. Basil’s. I am not sure I would pay to tour St. Basil’s and the Kremlin Cathedrals. I think I’d just do the Kremlin Cathedrals, if we were to do it again. There are lots of places to eat there, so you can easily spend the day there. There is a food court by the Kremlin, on the Alexander Garden side.
What did I forget? What do you want to know?
It is nice to be home. I managed to go upstairs last night and see the dogs. Lots of licking on my face… I never let them do that, but Nina was just so excited to see me. I was pretty excited to see her too… she is a special dog, very intuitive of how I am feeling. Silly when I need a laugh and calm and cuddly when I am upset or sick. It might sound funny if you aren’t a dog person yourself, but she and I have a bond.
One of the first things we did today was introduce the kids to the dogs. We brought Cache down first. He is a very good dog around kids, will let them pull his ears and jump all over him. He just laid on the couch and let us do what we wanted with him. Both kids were very scared. Aaron and I touched him and showed how calm he was. I put my mouth near his muzzle and made kissing sounds. The kids thought that was so funny and seemed to relax a bit when they realized he would not bite me. They petted him a bit, but they are still very scared. We let both dogs out a bit later. Nina, who has no kid experience to my knowledge, was a natural too. She often acts like a huge puppy, so that surprised me. Both dogs are good about keeping a little distance between themselves and the kids, but it is going to take more time. One minute they are petting them or reaching a hand out to be licked and the next their screaming in fear. Of course, this is normal, but I am ready to be past this and have dogs and humans peacefully co-existing.
We tried to go to Wal-Mart today. We wanted to pick some stuff up, like wipes, which we are totally out of. But, Wal-Mart was closed. Seriously Wal-Mart? I had much lower expectations for you. So, I was a little happy that Wal-Mart closes on Christmas and a little frustrated because we needed a few things. Target opens at 7am tomorrow and I am ready!
The rest of our day was just hanging out at home. We skyped with my family for awhile. We had our second annual gag gift exchange this year. I wanted to see the people who received our gifts open them. It was a lot of fun to see them open their gifts. Then, Ilya and Lena opened the gifts my parents sent them. Books which they just LOVED. Ilya got very excited because one of his books is all about trucks. We skyped for awhile longer, just talking while the kids played. It is great to see all 10 of them. I miss them a lot.
The Christmas tree is absolutely beautiful. My mom sent us my ornaments from when I was a kid. So, I gave Ilya and Lena those ornaments to add to the bottom of the tree. They LOVED that. My mom also got them their own bells, engraved with their names. It is a tradition in our family, a bell with your name engraved on your first Christmas. These bells are beautiful.
I am so grateful for all of these people we have in our lives. I know I’ve said it before, but it comes as a surprise to me constantly, how wonderful everyone is. Our friends and families have blowed us away with support. We still have our loan with family, but the rest of our adoption expenses are taken care of. Any money which we did not need, we are planning to put into the grant of a waiting child, specifically one of the boys at Ilya and Lena’s orphanage. We are not sure which yet, but we hope to soon be sponsoring one of these boys through Project Hopeful‘s Family in the Gap Program. I am grateful to have an opportunity to put something back into the adoption process.
Life here is so different from Ukraine. I want to share more about that later, but my American friends, we have it good. Really, really good. We are blessed. Blessed with things like clean water and building codes and vegetables free from giardia. I just wanted to share that with you.
I was overwhelmed the second we stepped off the plane in Washington D.C. So glad to be off the long flight and so glad to be back in the U.S.
….the second that someone started singing “The Christmas Song” (“Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”) on the PA system in Dulles.
…when we pulled into our driveway and even more so when we saw a package under the mat. A package from a dear friend who lives far away.
…when I stepped into our kitchen, food covering the countertops. Fridge stuffed full. Packages all over the kitchen table.
…when I went into the dining room and saw a beautiful table cloth, big enough for our huge table, two sweet scrapbooks, more cards and candy.
…when I went into the living room and saw the beautiful tree, and all of the other awesome decorations. Saw presents under the tree, ready for tomorrow.
…when I stepped into the bathroom, needing to give Lena a bath that very minute, not even thinking about where I had packed the shampoo. Set her into the tub, look down and there is a basket of bath goodies, including shampoo. And lotion, another thing that I had been needing for them.
I am so overwhelmed that I haven’t even gone upstairs yet to see my dogs, knowing that seeing them (and whatever surprises lie upstairs) will put me over the edge.
I have always loved Christmas, found it magical. I think this is even the first Christmas I haven’t been at my parents house, with my sisters and all. It is sad to not be there with them… I miss them a lot. But I am very grateful to be here in this moment, surrounded by so many wonderful people and spending it with Aaron, Ilya and Lena.