February 23, 2015

Five Years With Miles

Five years ago this month, I was stepping off of a plane in Kinshasa, DRCongo.  Despite a plane ride that took up an entire day, my excitement of being in that beautiful country to meet my son for the first time overrode any feelings of tiredness.  My precious friend, Cami, went on that trip with me. We made our way through the airport.  We had been warned that the Kinshasa airport was one of the scariest places imaginable.  We tried to buddy up with an expat UN rep who left us high and dry the minute he could take a faster check in line. It was night and dark when we got there.  We shuffled through lines and handed our yellow fever vaccine cards and passports to what seemed like dozens of people trying to figure us out.

People kept trying to take our luggage.  We had been told that under no circumstances were we to let anyone take our luggage because some people pretend to work for the airport and then hold your bags for ransom until you buy them back.  We had no idea what the gentleman meeting us in the airport looked like.  We knew he'd be in a taxi, but taxis were just beat up cars that looked like... beat up cars.  We started wandering out in the dark further and further away from the airport trying to get cell phone reception so that we could call our escort- all while carrying 100 pounds of luggage each.  Before we knew it we were two girls who had no clue what to do who were frantically walking away from the relative safety of the airport with no game plan at all. People kept flocking around us and trying to take our bags, take our phones, put us into cars that we shouldn't get into.  We didn't know who to trust so we finally took a gamble on a teenaged looking kid who spoke English who told us he could call our escort for us.  Thankfully, that sweet boy was true to his word and did indeed call our contact and not a serial killer looking for clueless American women.  We hopped into our contact's car and zoomed all through the most elaborate cluster flup of traffic imaginable.  In the middle of cars everywhere, the car either stalled or had a flat tire.  I can't remember which because both happened over the course of our stay and people jumped out, pushed us a while and then somehow we miraculously kept moving along.  What I remember most about Kinshasa is that there were people EVERYWHERE.  It was completely dark outside and electricity was spotty but people were out all over the place.  We asked our escort what all the people were doing?  He said, "Ehhh, thees people are out for to dreenk the beer."  Hmmmm, I thought.  Beer here must be really good.

I was trying to take it all in.  The sounds, the smells.  Through the darkness I knew I must try to remember every small detail so that I could tell Miles all about the Congo as he grew.  This boy I had yet to meet deserved every memory I could give him.  

We finally pulled into the place where we were staying. While we were waiting for the gate to the hostel to open, a car pulled in behind us.  I couldn't really figure out what was going on.  There was a flurry of talk and then I figured out that Miles' foster mom was in the car behind us and was bringing him to me!  I've never felt more nervous in my entire life than I did in that moment.  I was caught off guard.  I had no idea I would get to meet Miles that day and here he was, just feet from me in another car.  What should I do?  In all of my planning and preparations, I realized in that moment that I hadn't actually planned out what I should do when they brought him to me.  Would he want to be held?  Would he cry for his foster mom?  The enormity of what was about to happen hit me like a million bricks.

I saw a gorgeous, smiling woman step out of the car.  This woman's eyes just radiated love and happiness.  Her smile when she saw me...Oh my gosh.  I will never forget it.  It was beautiful.  There was so much love in her eyes when she put Miles in my arms.  He fit right in my arms.  A tiny little lump of a toddler no bigger than most 3 month olds.  He was expressionless and listless.  But darling.  He fit right into the crook of my neck.   I simultaneously wanted to stare at his beautiful face but also bury that beautiful face in my neck and never let him go.  I don't remember walking into the hostel.  I don't remember checking in.  I do remember thinking, "Some incredible women's arms are empty so that mine can be full."  The magnitude of that was overwhelming. To be entrusted with another woman's child- it's indescribable.  It's both the best and the worst of humanity.  Blessing and loss.  Sunrise and sunset.

When I came to my senses for a minute I think I asked the foster parents what I should do.  I think I meant, what should I feed him?  What does he like?  But I think it came out as, "What do I do?"  That's the million dollar question.  Their response?  "He is veeeeeerah serious, theese wahn."  And with those words, they were gone for the night.  They said it was best not to linger.  We should get to whatever it is I was supposed to do.

I sat him down on the floor.  My heart was still racing.  I think the thing that my brain told me was the night right thing to do was to just study him.  Like when the nurse hands you a newborn and you take off the tiny hat and inspect their little head and fluff their little hair. Or unswaddle them and take in the miracle that is tiny baby feet.  The toddler equivalent was equally as miraculous.  I took of his little blue sweatsuit (it was easily 100 degrees outside and he was in 2 layers of sweatsuits and boots that were 3 or 4 sizes too big)  That precious little peanut just stood there with a wise old man look on his face and scratched his bare behind.  Like he might solve all the world's problems while he took a long time to scratch.

Cami and I just sat there watching him.  It was the funniest thing imaginable and nearly every time she and I talk we bring up that "little old man, Miles, when he just stood there scratching his butt" and we burst into laughter.  It's a scene so etched into my mind I almost feel like I'm there again every time I think about it.  It's one of my favorite life memories.  Before long, it was time to go to bed and I picked up that tiny kiddo and tucked us both under the mosquito net and breathed prayers of thanksgiving that this child, who was more than I ever deserved, was my son.  I laid in the bed with my headlamp flashlight on and watched the cockroaches crawl up the walls and the bugs land on the mosquito net and the lizards scurry across the ceiling.  I could hear the bugs inside the mattress below my head.  Under normal circumstances, that would have stressed me all the way out.  In that moment though?  The beauty and brokenness of Congo and of this child, lined up with all the beauty and brokenness in my own heart like magic and I was more content that I've ever been in my whole life.

My time in the Congo was like an incredible fantasy.  I look back at it and sometimes wonder if it all really happened.  It's one of those places that instantly made me feel like I was "home".  It calmed the hopeless wanderer in me.  Every now and then when I glimpse my family way into the future we are living there and I can't quite figure out how home can feel two places at once- especially for somewhere that I only visited for such a short time.

Miles was quiet and cautious.  Of course he was- I was a stranger.  On the second day, Cami got him to crack a smile while playing peek a boo with the mosquito net.  Seeing that first smile- there's nothing like it.

I snapped a picture and waited nearly an hour for it to upload so I could send all of our family back home in Kentucky a picture of that first smile.  Miles was very ill- his intestinal parasites kept him weak.  And while he could walk and run like a champ, he was too weak to push himself back up when he stumbled.  I thought of my three kids and the start contrast between the two who had always had enough food and love and this new precious little addition who couldn't push his own small body up from lack of nutrition.  It's a very sobering feeling when you see first hand the manifestations of neglect up close.

We spent the rest of the week getting to know one another and delivering food and supplies to a few different orphanages.  It really was a blur.  Once we had all of the visas stamped in the passports and all the letters and papers we needed to exit the country, it was time to come home.

This picture of Miles speaks to the deepest parts of my heart.  I took this as we were getting ready to take off from the Kinshasa airport.  Watching my son looking out at his birth country...  wrapped up in a towel because the illnesses in his body had already ruined all the clothes that we had access to on the plane... Miles and I talk a lot about him going back to Congo to visit- or maybe to live when he's old enough to make that choice.  He's so proud to be Congolese... part of me felt like I was ripping part of his soul away by taking him from there.  And the other part of me wanted to hold him and take away the pain and the sickness that probably would have claimed his life had he stayed.  There are no easy answers.  Adoption is the epitome of sticky answers, hard feelings, beautiful feelings and all the in between.  We keep talking, keep listening and continually work through all of those feelings together.

We arrived back in the United States on February 21, 2010.  Our family had gathered at the airport to welcome us home.  I couldn't wait to introduce my husband to his son and for Sadie and Noah to get to meet their brother.  That was truly a magical moment.

Excitedly waiting for us to get off the plane...

Kamron meeting Miles for the first time.

Our first picture as a family of five. 

Sadie and Noah loved Miles instantly.  Miles understandably took some time getting used to a new life. There were certain things he loved a lot though... toys with wheels...pancakes... bubbles... and a sister who would carry him anywhere he wanted to go...

We had a rocky first year all together.  But in retrospect, there was so much goodness.  There was so much healing, so much growing, so much stretching for all of us.  Miles' spunky, hilarious personality took months and months to shine through.  But once it did- oh my gosh- there was no going back.  This kid is the most joyful, most engaging, most contagiously happy child I've ever met. We are so lucky to get to raise him.  He is so treasured by so many people.

In honor of five years together- he's a look back at some of my favorite pictures of Miles.


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