Tag Archives: Parenting

Ripping through my Fingers

This past Tuesday was our daughter’s first day of second grade. While first days of school always mark the passing of time, and thus can be a bittersweet moment, this one was especially rough for me. We just relocated to the Seattle area because I got a new job with my company. This meant that we moved away from all our family and the friends we’ve made over literally decades of living in the DFW area.

We just moved to the area a week before school started, so it’s been quite a whirlwind few weeks. The night before school started, it really hit me that Alina would be all on her own just a few short days after we had arrived. We haven’t even had the chance to get settled yet, and already she was going to have to venture out on her own.

So many people have encouraged us during the last few months, and one of the things they kept saying was that “kids are resilient” and that she’d adjust just fine. While my head believes that, that feeling was not echoed in my heart. It was actually a worse feeling than the day before we dropped her off at kindergarten. We had lived in that area for more than a year before she started school, so being here for such a short amount of time had me thinking that it would be harder on her.

As I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, I literally cried out to God and just over and over again said out loud “God be with my little girl.” As an adoptive father, I am very well aware that Alina is truly a gift of God, and that He has given her to us to guide her in the right way, encourage her, and try to guide her in the right way. What I was really freaking out about was that I couldn’t be there for her to comfort her if she was scared, and tell her that it would be okay.

What I realized is that trying to hold on to her is just as futile as trying to hold on to a rope that is tied to a runaway bull: it’s futile. The tighter I try to hold on to that rope, the more I would feel it ripping through my fingers. As time goes on, and she gets older, the less rope I have to hold on to, and the more she will be in control of her own life and the more choices she will be responsible for. I only hope that with what little rope I have left that I help steer her in the right direction.

But ultimately I know that she is not my daughter so much as she is God’s child, and I have to learn to be okay with that. I will continue to pray for her, plead with God to help me be at my best for her, and at times even try to wrestle with God trying to keep her safe and protected. But only He can really do that, and like every other Father trying to raise their kids that is so hard for me to swallow.

In the end, I am left with a hollow feeling that no matter what I do, I cannot be there to shelter and protect her all the time and I have to learn to live with that. That’s when I have to rest in God’s promise that He knows her name, He looks out for her far better than I can, and that He is with her all the time. I must ask for him to fill that hollow feeling of helplessness in me, and help me because I am so incredibly weak. Thank you God for allowing me to be a small part in her life story.

Gotcha Day 1,826

It was the morning of September 10, 2008. We had stayed the night in Cheboksary, the capital city of Chuvashia, while your paperwork was getting done. Tatyana, our Russian coordinator, was helping us get the official court documents of your adoption hearing. We also got your Russian passport, which we would need so that you could travel home with us to Texas. By mid-afternoon, we had everything we needed and we grabbed a taxi ride to the baby house in Alatyr.

We got to Alatyr just before 5pm. The doctor at the baby house normally goes home before 4pm most days, but he stayed late because he wanted to see that everything went well for our reunion with you. When we arrived, they had a small celebration arranged for us, with fresh pastries made by the cooks at the baby house and fresh fruit. They brought you in to see us and your Mom and I had not been as happy to see anyone in our lives. For the first time ever, we looked at your sweet face knowing that we were officially your parents. We spent a few minutes eating and talking with the baby house doctor and a couple of staff members, but needed to leave pretty quickly because we had an hour and a half drive to the station where we could catch our train back to Moscow.

On the drive to the train station, you sat in my lap (car seats are not all that common in taxis in Russia). We had some cheese crackers and a few other snacks for you to eat. I fed them to you during the drive and it began to sink in that our family was finally together. I could hardly take my eyes off of you, and I think that was the moment when I knew that I loved you, and would do anything for you.

We got to the station and boarded our overnight train to Moscow. As we got to our compartment, Tatyana and Pasha left us alone with you for a few minutes. We sat you down on the bench seat, and then sat down on the bench across from you. You stared up at us with those big eyes and I wondered what was going on in that little head of yours. At that point, the realization that you were now completely our responsibility hit me, and I think it may have hit your Mom then, too. We sat for a minute or in silence just staring at you. At that point, I looked over at your Mom and my honest reaction was to say to her: “Holy s**t we have a baby!” Not one of my more eloquent moments, I know, but we both then busted out laughing and I think it helped get us out of the sheer moment of terror in which we found ourselves.

We settled into our compartment and the train departed the station. We sat up for about an hour or so, and then began getting ready for bed. We got you in your pajamas and set up the pull down bed for you. Your Mom took the upper bed, so I was laying in the pull down bed across from you. We stared at each other for a long while after we turned the lights out. I just wanted you to know that you were safe, and that I was there for you. Ever since that night, I’ve always wanted you to know that. I hope that you never doubt it.

That was Gotcha Day number 1. Today it’s Gotcha Day number 1,826. Five years later, and we are so thankful to be your Mom and Dad.

Our Day in Court, Part 2

After finally getting through the gauntlet of crazy travel (see previous post), we arrived at court in Cheboksary. The only person we were allowed to bring in the court room with us was Natasha, who would be our translator during the hearing. We had met her briefly on our first trip to Russia back in May because she had translated some documents for us that were filed with the government. The two people we were used to traveling with, Tatyana and Pasha, were not allowed to be in the court room with us. This was really hard for us because they were our security blankets. Anytime we went anywhere in Russia, one of them was always with us, so that already made us feel a bit uneasy.

The court room was very interesting. We were using the criminal court room because the civil court room was apparently unavailable. The room was fairly large with the ability to see about 100 people. It was very stark with minimal ornamentation. The jury box was on our right and on the left hand side there was actually a small cell with bars, which was a bit surreal. The only other people in the room besides us and Natasha were a doctor from the baby house and a representative from the Russian Department of Education, both of whom we had met before. There also was a court reporter, and then eventually the judge came in once the hearing started. The entire hearing was in Russian, and Natasha had to translate everything for us.

There was construction going on outside, so they had to close all the windows so that we could hear. There was no air conditioning, which caused the room to heat up as the day went along. We had been told this judge liked to really drag on the proceedings and grill potential parents, so we were extremely nervous. Most adoption cases last about 60-90 minutes, ours would end up lasting almost 6 hours.

After the judge made some opening comments and set out some ground rules, I was asked to stand and he began asking me questions. The questions ran the gamut. He asked me where I worked, what I did for a living, what our family and home life was like, what our religious beliefs were, what my childhood was like, how we planned to discipline, if we had pets, etc. All of this was already answered in the paperwork we had provided, but I guess he just wanted to cover it again to show that he was being thorough.

He then asked me why we wanted a child from Russia, and how after meeting you briefly for a few hours we were sure that we wanted you to be our daughter. I’ve had people ask me that same question a few times over the past five years and I really don’t know that I have ever given them an answer they are satisfied to hear. But all I can tell you is that I knew that after all the paperwork, poking and prodding by doctors, crazy travel arrangements, and whatever other hurdles that we had to overcome to get to that moment, I absolute KNEW you were meant to be our daughter. The only thing I have ever been that sure of before or since is knowing that your Mom was meant to be my wife. It’s something that I know at the very core of my being, and that’s because God planned for it all along. You were never a mistake, you were never unplanned, you were never unwanted. Never. Period. NEVER! I’m more sure of that with every passing day that I take a breath. If for any reason you ever feel any differently about that, you absolutely put it out of your mind because it simply is not true.

I answered questions for about an hour, and I’ve never been more nervous in my life. The room getting hotter didn’t help either, and I honestly thought on more than one occasion that I might pass out. I had sweat completely through my shirt, and sweat was literally pouring down my head and neck. When he finally said that I was done, I’ve never been more glad to sit down.

At that point, it was your Mom’s turn. He asked her very similar questions for about 45 minutes. Your Mom is usually so cool under pressure, but I could tell that she was just as nervous as I had been. Because our translator was standing to our right, your Mom would look to her to get the translation and answer the questions. The judge told her that she needed to look at him when answering her questions, even though he had to hear it from the translator as well. But she did so great, and fought back emotions because she knew that she was doing it for you.

Once the judge had finished questioning us, he began to ask questions of the doctor from the baby house and the representative from the Department of Education. He checked with them to make sure all procedures had been followed: like seeing if you had been made available only to Russian couples until you were 8 months old, if anyone in your birth family was able to take care of you, and if they had seen us interact with you when we visited the baby house. At that point, it was close to noon and we took a break for lunch. Your Mom and I were still so nervous that we really could only eat some soup at lunch.

We headed back to the courthouse around 1pm and we started up again. At this point, it was just a lot of reviewing of documents that had been filed, reviewing pictures we had provided of our home and our family, and answering a few more clarifying questions here and there. We stopped at about 3pm so that the judge could make his decision. We waited in the hallway for about 45 minutes, and were called up to the small civil court room to listen to the judge’s decision.

As the court reporter read the information from the judge, which confirmed the details about you and us that had been presented, your Mom and I were listening to Natasha’s translation intently. What lasted maybe 2 minutes seemed like an absolute eternity, until finally at the end we were the words “the adoption has been approved”. We both smiled and almost broke down into tears. When the case was adjourned and the judge left, we walked out in the hallway to share the good news with Tatyana and Pasha. I looked over at your Mom and she was starting to cry, and I told her that she couldn’t do it because I would break down and it wasn’t likely that I would stop. We were both so emotionally drained from a long trip, a long process, and a long day, but we could not have been happier.

We knew that we’d have to go home to Texas one more time without you, but that in about 10 days when the waiting period was over, we knew that we’d be taking you home, too. On August 28th, 2008, what God had always known finally became true to the world: you were our daughter.

Big First Day

Today is the day I’ve been looking forward to and dreading equally for quite a while now.  It was the first day of kindergarten for our 5-year-old daughter, Alina.  I know she’s going to do great in school, but it is still hard for me to see this day come.  I guess this just feels a little bit like the end of an era, and time to move on to the next chapter of life.

It’s been nearly 4 years since we brought her home from Russia, and man, what a ride it’s been.  We’ve seen her grow from a quiet toddler that preferred to play by herself and wasn’t very keen to cuddle, into a little girl who always tries to entertain us and who won’t let us leave the house without a kiss and a hug.  I cherish every one of those, by the way, even when I am running late to get where I’m going.  The days I work from home will be a little quieter, and I’ll definitely have fewer interruptions, but I know I’ll look forward to taking a short break when she gets home from school.

It’s not like this is the first time she’s been in a school, per se.  She’s been in Mother’s Day Out at an area church for the past few years, and that has been good for her.   But being that it was at a church, only 5 hours a day, and only 2-3 days a week, it didn’t feel the same as school to me.  The public school she is going into now had 175 kindergartners last year.  ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY-FIVE!  It probably won’t phase her too much that it’s a lot bigger.  I’m sure she’ll notice some differences, but she doesn’t realize how big a deal this is, I’m sure.  But we know.

You see, a big part of our faith in God is knowing that He is in control.  That doesn’t mean that He makes every move in the world happen, mind you, but you have to realize that He’s always there for you, and He’s always taking our mistakes and the events in this world and weaving them into a story of hope, redemption, love and grace.  That is usually pretty comforting for me, but there are still two things in my life that I worry about: my wife Brandon, and Alina.  Seems pretty good to have it down to two, but it’s still not enough.

About a year or so ago, I went into her room while she was sleeping, and I prayed over her and gave her back to God.  She was never not His, mind you, I just officially gave up trying to do this on my own. That was very, very hard for me.  My role, not just as Alina’s father, but as her adoptive father, tends to remind me that Brandon and I were entrusted by two governments (and a host of individuals) to care for her.  Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that, and it just adds a little extra something to the fact that her care and well-being are my responsibility.  Ultimately, we have to wait years to realize just how good we are doing, and honestly there are days when I feel like I am just winging it.

So last night, as I was driving home from a Bible class I am taking, I listened to songs that remind me of her and certain parts of our journey. I cried a bit, but just prayed aloud asking God that he look out for her, and put people in her life that will love her, care for her, and help teach her while she is at school.  I prayed for her to meet some friends who will not only make her laugh and enjoy her time in school, but who will also become part of her support network for years to come.  Essentially, I had to take another step to let her go so that she can become who God wants her to be.  It’s hard for a Dad to admit that he doesn’t want his daughter to see him when she looks at him, but if that means that instead of seeing me, she sees just a glimpse of God our Father, then I’ll strive for that every moment that I can.