It was a milestone both for our family, and not of our family... but of our "family."
Got that? (Go ahead, I'll wait while you re-read it.)
You see, as any readers who have been through the
A long, slow, exasperating, sometimes fear-filled, sometimes tear-filled, sometimes bleakly empty period of years in which an entire family's life is, to varying degrees at varying times in varying ways, put entirely on hold (without even the benefit of cheesy Muzak). Want to move? Think twice. Want an expensive vacation, need a new car, or think your house might need expensive repairs? Think twice. Want to change jobs? Think twice... no, make that thrice. Your life is documented, investigated, monitored, reviewed, re-documented, re-reviewed; your home is examined, your personal past is laid open to a foreign government's review, you are required by international law to take courses that are unheard of (and probably would not be tolerated) by anyone seeking to grow a family via the classic "birds and bees" method.
If you do not have a support structure of some kind, you will. not. make. it. through.
Trust me on this. I'm not even directly the parent of a child adopted from China (though I consider myself truly blessed to be an integral part of Miri's life -- and "blessed" is a word I never use) -- but as my sister's paperchase wore on and on and on, I learned many new definitions of the word "stress" that my life would have been quite a bit more enjoyable without.
My sister -- and my folks, and Yours Truly -- were amazingly lucky to have become part of an extended family of families all going through the process at the same time, which soon evolved into going through the process together. A shoulder to cry on is A Good Thing to have; when that shoulder is attached to someone who knows exactly what you're going through, it becomes a lifeline when rough seas threaten to capsize your rowboat, a light when the darkness seems total and all-encompassing, the only friendly voice in a cacophany of heartless, beaureaucratic naysaying.
So -- despite different lifestyles, backgrounds, religions, and adoption agencies -- bonds were forged, friendships built, and an extended family grew of its own accord without anyone planning for it to happen. Overall, the group grew & shrank over time; some families decided they'd had enough and dropped out, and we were all shocked by another marriage that unexpectedly cracked & broke under the strain of the wait. But overall, the group held together, friendships & understanding growing bit by bit as the months became years and the years began crawling past.
Our adoption family's roots go back to late 2005/early 2006; back then, anyone adopting from China was told to expect a wait of months, "maybe a year, absolutely no more than 18 months" before booking their flight to the other side of the world. AJ's agency assured her she would be meeting her daughter in China "within a year" and we were so worried about the speed of the process that I paid extra to have my new passport expedited to ensure I wouldn't miss the flight.
I could have saved the cash. It wasn't until July of 2008 that the first little baby girl joined us at our annual crab feast (at which, ironically, crabs usually don't figure very large on the menu). Then, in October of 2008, the second baby girl came home followed by a 3rd baby girl in March of 2009. (When reading these dates, keep in mind that the adopting families had all begun the adoption process in mid-to-late 2005). We were thrilled to finally have the Pipsqueak join us in July of 2010, and then the first little girl (not a baby any more!) met her little brother in December of that year. Another little girl came home in February of 2011, and then two families were joined by their new daughters in May of 2011.
All along, the families whose children had come home and the families who were still waiting supported each other, did things together, and rejoiced and/or cried together over many things (as the wait stretched longer, there were grandparents who never got to meet their grandchildren). The clock seemed to be ticking more and more slowly, until finally in May of 2012 another little girl came home and the 3rd little girl (also no longer a "baby" by any means) got to meet her little brother. That left one last family dangling in the netherworld of "it will be soon... no, not that soon... soon..." It could have -- should have? -- broken up this big informal adoption family, or at least left this one last family out in the cold as the only ones still caught in the paperchase, but everyone remembered (with far more clarity than any of us really wanted) the pain of the wait, the feelings of attending one of our get-togethers and seeing someone else there happily wiping the chin of their new daughter or son... and the family held together.
Finally, in September of 2012, the last family in our family traveled to China to pick up their little girl and bring her home. It had taken over seven years -- over 2,600 days! -- for all the kids to come home, but it had finally happened.
So why a milestone this past Sunday and not last year?
We had a big luncheon get-together (of course it was at a Chinese restaurant!) with almost all the grownups in attendance -- and all the kids were there.
Let me say that again: ALL THE KIDS WERE THERE. For the first time since the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline was around two bucks, since we had a President nicknamed "Dubya," since Western Union stopped sending telegrams, since contact was lost with Pioneer 10... our adoption family had a get-together and all. the. kids. were. there.
It was noisy. It was chaotic. It was noisy. It was extremely active. It was noisy. It was a full-size "kids' table" set up with crafts & coloring books that was for the first time ever too small. It was a gaggle of little girls and a pair of little boys (and one slightly overwhelmed older brother who was the biological offspring of his parents and who turned out to be possibly the world's best "instant" big brother on Gotcha Day and every day since).
(Dude, don't forget to mention that it was noisy...!)
The kids raced back & forth, following specific fish around in the big tank. The kids sat and colored and stickered (Doggie now has sparkly purple "earrings" thanks to the Pipsqueak liking some of the foam shape stickers). The kids chased each other around. The kids shoveled food into their mouths as fast as they could / refused to eat anything / ate daintily and carefully / any combination thereof and then some. And -- despite the occasional and inevitable mini-meltdown, or face meeting table at inopportune moments, or multiple kids attempting to simultaneously occupy the same point in the space-time continuum -- it was happy. There was English, and some French, and snippets of Spanish and Mandarin, and plain ol' wordless happy yelling.
I think the older girls had some real understanding of how special the event was, but even the younger ones (including the latest addition, the only one of the kids who hadn't yet met all the others) all seemed to immediately find common ground and play together as peacefully as any group of 3- and 4-year-olds can be expected to. One of the older girls, the first one to come home all the way back in July of 2008, when forced to abandon the kids' craft table by the sheer volume of humanity gathered around it kept asking, "what are we going to do next?" until AJ had a flash of inspiration and told her, "next we're all going to turn into grapefruit!" The girl's expression was absolutely priceless -- and then she burst out laughing and wormed her way back into the happy mass of young humanity at the kids' table.
She got it: this was happy time, never mind what's next on the schedule, we can all finally really truly honestly say everyone is here, let's just enjoy the company.
And we did. Because we are all good friends who know each other well, because we have all helped each other through the longest gestation of any living mammal (your science textbook will tell you it's the elephant -- but they only have to wait about one year, not seven), because we know that at long last none of our friends are still trapped in the paperchase, because the food was good and the company better. Because all the kids were there.
There are already emails bopping around the Internet as various moms in the group try to coordinate their schedules for play dates and/or grownup get-togethers, and there's talk of the best place for this year's crab feast, and even a couple of mentions of heritage trips back to China in coming years, but from this point forward it will all be with one major, all-encompassingly good, difference: All our kids are here with us now.
And we know it, and we rejoice in it. Even as we worry about the world they're growing up in, how to pay for college, how long the grandparents will be able to lend a hand, how solid anyone's job is, how the various kids will deal with the inevitable issues of trans-racial adoption, and... and... and... on and on. We are all likely more interested in news from & about China than the average U.S. citizen, but no longer have "fight or flight" responses trigger instantly at the mention of the word "China" on TV; we are all able to heave a sigh of relief and a quiet "thank you God for that not being me any more" before reaching out to comfort / support / console / advise other families caught in their own paperchases; we can all stop worrying about how we're going to adjust to being a family and get on with the daily business of being a family. And the change really happened, the new reality slipped quietly (okay, noisily and happily chaotically) into place when an amazing, happy milestone was reached this past Sunday.
All the kids were there.