One year ago today I met one of the loves of my life. In the adoption community it is known as gotcha day. That phrase seems foreign to me because I never got Oskar, but it was he that always had me. 365 days ago I met my son for the first time. For 18 months I imagined what that day would hold. I waded through mountains of paperwork, willingly let immigration and social workers invade my privacy, and answered everyone’s unending questions about why we wanted to adopt. Isn’t it funny that because God told me to isn’t a good enough answer? I sold things, borrowed, begged, and in the end accepted the gifts that God gave us to make our adoption happen. I asked advice, talked to other adoptive moms, and read all the books that tell about preparations for adoption. They said not to overwhelm him, to be unassuming, and to let him come to me. I meant to do all those things, and in the end, I did none of them.
In the freezing cold of Europe without coats, we would set out to meet our son for the first time. After landing in Estonia at night with no luggage, working phone, or a way to get into our apartment, we were exhausted and emotional. See, our plane had broken down in Chicago, and we ran all the way to the opposite end of the airport crying and begging another flight to let us on after they had shut the gates. We had to sit on separate rows for 8.5 hours and agree to leave our bags in America if we wanted on the flight. The flight was very hot, cramped, and miserable at best. We got through it though and made it to Germany and tried to sleep on benches for the next 7 hours until we could board a flight to Tallinn, Estonia. From the first flight until we arrived in Estonia it was over 20 hours. After taking a taxi to our apt we buzzed the bell on our building with no answer. We asked one stranger on the street to let us use their phone to call to the missionaries inside, but he would not. The second man that passed by was very kind, spoke English, and let us use his phone….maybe kind is not the word, drunk and happy would better describe him. We later learned the intercom system was so quiet inside that one could barely hear it ring. The next morning shopping for coats could wait, only hell could keep me from seeing my boy when the sun came up. We bundled up in what we had and went to the orphanage the after begging our facilitator to take us a day early. If he would have said no, I had intentions of showing up at the gate and begging them to let me in! When we arrived, we had one gift for our son, the chocolate bar from our meal on the plane; our bags had been sent to Detroit, Michigan. Everything I had bought with love and care had not yet arrived; I had only a small piece of candy to bring my son.
The ride to the orphanage was a scary one. A million things went thorough my mind. What if Oskar did not want to come with us? What if he was scared too? Would we connect? Was everyone going to think I was insane because I wasn’t dressed anywhere near appropriate? In Estonia people wear gloves, scarves, hats, thick boots, a jacket, and then a coat. We had none of those things because when we left the USA it was still tee shirt weather. I don’t remember being cold though. I just recall my heart pounding.
When we arrived at the Lastekodu(orphanage), I told my husband to hold the camera and film every second. My hands shake when I get nervous, and I knew I would be of no use. I was so scared I was nauseous. Our facilitator walked so fast, we had only the chance to take one picture of the outside of the orphanage. Igor ran us down a long hall and up stairs and walked us through the door to Oskar’s group. Everyone says the orphanages smell different and sound different, but I remember nothing. I had my eyes and heart set for one little boy. If not for my husband’s film footage I could not tell you what the orphanage looked like. As soon as we walked in, he came running up, smiled, and grabbed the toy we had mailed him months before. My eyes were glued to his face, and I did the only thing I knew how and that was pull him into my arms. I held him, cried, and told him in Eesti that I loved him. The greatest joy though was when he put his arms around me too. See, Oskar knew for 11 months that we were coming, half way through our adoption they allowed us to send a photo album of our family. He was waiting for me just like I had been waiting for him. A little boy on the other side of the world was waiting for his parents to come and take him home for almost a year, quite a long time for a little boy to be patient, but he had spent his entire life in the orphanage not belonging to anyone. He was told that the orphanage was a temporary place for children to live until their parents came to bring them home. All the children believed that one day someone would come for them. So for 5 years he waited for his mom and dad to come back for him. Each year or two as he got older he was moved to a different part of the orphanage with different caregivers still waiting for someone that would be his forever.
When one adopts, everything seems to be centered on bonding. Classes are taken about the subject, other adoptive parents tell things to try, and at every corner someone has a story about how if bonding doesn’t get off to a good start, everything will fall apart. I did not worry about any of that though, and I was not afraid Oskar would not love me back. The way I saw it was I could love enough for the both of us. I walked into O’s life fully prepared to accept him for whoever he was and spend the rest of my life earning his trust. I took his hand, and we walked right out of that orphanage. I had my son, and he finally had his mother. We never looked back either. He was exactly who I thought he would be. He was full of fire, passion, and energy. Since he was my son, I decided to throw all the rules out and ignore everything the books told me. In my mind, my son was a prince and should be treated accordingly, hence the nickname I gave him, the Eesti(Estonian) Prince.
Though it was frigid and inches of snow covered the ground, I was determined to see as much of Estonia as I could. We took Oskar to restaurants, for his first happy meal, the grocery to pick any food he wanted(how happy he was when he got to pick an apple and tomato), window shopping at the mall, on a city tour, the movies, zoo, and once even a fine chocolatier(for one precious piece of candy). When we walked in everything looked so fragile. I was petrified by the china and white table cloths and afraid Oskar would smash it all to pieces lol. Instead my son asked the girl behind the candy case on a date! Everyone says when a child is adopted to shrink their world and keep things simple. I decided his world had been way too small for 5 years, so I was going to open every door. I did everything the textbooks said not to do. Oskar saw Estonia with wide eyes, giggles, and maybe even a few tantrums. For the record, the Argentina restaurant is not a cheap café like we thought. They take reservations, but of course exceptions will be made when you walk in with a prince. However, one can not guarantee a little boy will remember to act princely! Still, every person that met him loved him; we had a chance to tell people from Estonia about adoption and what a gift it was to us. It was as if the people had no idea there were orphans in his country. I had the opportunity to show him his country even if one day he no longer recalls it. I walked the streets day after day trying to soak it in and find a way to remember enough for him one day.
Each night when it was time for bed Oskar rocked himself to sleep while I cried, back and forth from side to side he rocked and not gently either. I cried because he had learned to do this on his own with no one to do it for him. I would sit beside him and rub his back promising him he would always have me to comfort him from each day on. Each morning he woke up I felt like I had been given the greatest gift in the world. Oskar always wakes up with a smile and can often be heard singing. One day I fell asleep on the couch and woke to him standing before me stroking my cheek so softly as if not to wake me up. When I opened my eyes he gently smiled. That’s when I knew for sure I had seen the face of God. It was in that instant that I knew for sure God loved me, and anything was possible. Oskar did not have to love me, but he did. With reckless abandon, past anyone’s definition of reasonable, and through fear, he loved me. To me, it was the only true way to love. From that point on I changed, grew, and started to become the person I was always meant to be, Oskar’s mother. I knew that very day that I would die for my son if it ever came to that. If a 5 year old boy could be brave, loving, and walk away from everything he ever knew without looking back, I could be a better person. We did have our challenges, but one thing that was constant was our devotion to each other. Oskar and I were meant to be together.
One year ago I met my hero, and I was loved and wanted more than anyone told me was possible. The next day we went to court and when the judge asked what we thought of Oskar, my husband and I looked at each other and said perfect in unison. It took the judge 10 minutes to grant our adoption and to our social worker’s shock she said she would have the papers typed in 5 minutes. From what I gathered it was quite unusual to be done so quickly. The judge said we were brave for adopting Oskar and that she knew he would thrive and have a future in our family. All I could think is that Oskar was much braver than we were. It was not my son who was lucky, it was us.
Many people do not understand adoption. They think it’s only for rich infertile people who want that perfect little baby. I was neither of those things. I was just a woman who felt like a piece of her soul was missing. I spent years not knowing exactly what it was I was looking for, and I just happened to find it in Tallinn, Estonia. Oskar is beyond what I wanted and everything I needed. He is good, kind, and spectacularly wonderful. He is not afraid of very much, and when anyone is sad he is the first to worry about them and make them feel better. He never sits still, and the entire world is one big adventure for him, but to know him is to love him. He has that affect on people. It’s in his smile, the smile that looks ever so familiar. I imagine one day when I finally get to meet Jesus, their smiles might look a little alike. For it was my little boy that actually taught me just how powerful God’s love can be. He made me realize that miracles do happen, God does part the seas, and he gives life. He took me over the ocean and gave me greatest heart’s desire, my Oskar. He answered my prayers and did what fathers do, love their children. One year ago everything changed for me. I learned to stop looking behind me, and instead I looked above to God, never forgetting that everything I have comes from him.