It was another early morning today, but this time it wasn’t because of the ambient noise coming through our open window. It was nerves today that had my mind alert and reeling before 6 AM. We were set to leave for the courthouse at 9 AM, which meant I had three hours to fill. After getting dressed and packing, I was disappointed to find out that I had only successfully whittled away 45 minutes of what was turning out to be the longest wait ever. My jittery stomach forced Kevin to dine solo this morning, which is incredibly demonstrative of just how out of sorts I was. How often do I skip breakfast? Pretty much never!
Alone in the hotel room, I forced myself to sit down and be still before the Lord for a while. The chapter of John that I read was truly balm to my antsy soul. I took my eyes off our own situation at hand and prayed for the other adoptive families here with us, our friends in the states who are preparing to join us in China in a matter of days, and for my Chinese friends who seem a world away at the moment (possibly because they are!).
Finally, it was time to leave. Our driver met us at the guest house and within minutes we had arrived at the court. It was a modest building with a group of foreigners gathered outside. All the foreign adoptive parents were ushered into a large yet very stuffy room on an upper floor. Our agency representative, Haile, accompanied us as we began the long wait until it was our turn to appear before the judge. First, several Ethiopian families were called into judge’s office. The crowd thinned as the judge made her way through the docket. Every ten minutes or so, my heart jumped as a small girl who I assumed was the judge’s assistant peeked her head out from the office to announce something in Amharic. Since I obviously couldn’t discern what she was saying, my eyes immediately shot to Haile to follow his reaction to what she said. Finally, Haile rose to his feet when she appeared and we followed them both into the judge’s office.
There was no pomp or circumstance surrounding this hearing. It was no American TV court with an intimidating judge shrouded in a black robe, perched behind a towering pedestal of authority. Instead, a petite woman wearing a black head scarf sat behind a simple desk, embodying the smoldering elegance characteristic of Ethiopian woman. She wasted no time with formalities but asked us several straight-forward questions: Have we made efforts to become familiar with the culture and history of Ethiopia? Do we have children of our own? Have we seen the two boys we are wishing to adopt? Do we accept them as our own children? Do we understand that once this decree has been made, it can under no circumstance be reversed? Then with a nonchalance that failed to capture the weight of the moment, she uttered the words that have now changed the trajectory of our lives & identities: they are yours.
Within twenty seconds, it was over and we left her office as legal guardians of these two precious boys. It all happened so fast that we had to double-check with Haile to make sure we properly understood what had just transpired. Indeed, he confirmed, it was all true. Yes, we passed court. Yes, our MoWA letter had arrived in time. Yes, we are their parents. Which means I am at liberty to introduce to you our new family:
(here is the hot pink onesie I know everyone was dying to see!)
We left the courthouse in somewhat of a daze and headed to the American embassy. We had to have an important US State Department form called the I-600 notarized, and since notaries are near impossible to come by in China, the Addis embassy was the only place we could have it done. Unfortunately, after a half-hour drive winding through dusty roads and crowded pedestrian & donkey traffic, we arrived at the embassy only to find out that they can only provide notary service between 1 and 3 o’clock. Despite the minor annoyance, there wasn’t much that could ruin the joyful mood of the day. We headed back to the hotel and agreed to meet the driver again at 1 PM to return to the embassy one more time.
To make a wonderful day even better, we flipped on the TV in our room and found that “Tommy Boy” was playing on the English movie channel. We laughed over Chris Farley’s antics and quoted all the lines we remembered as we showered, packed up, and prepared to check out of our hotel. Thankfully, the manager had extended our check-out time to 4 PM so we would be able to freshen up before our long flight that night.
Just as we finished lunch in the hotel’s small restaurant, the driver arrived and we headed to the airport to attempt to get our donation of Crocs out of customs purgatory. It was unfortunately an hour wasted as the computer systems were down, and none of the necessary information could be retrieved. But this second set back still couldn’t put a dampener on the day.
After we left the airport, our driver escorted us and another American couple living in Hong Kong to the embassy once more. It turned out to be a rather involved & somewhat frustrating process. When our number was finally called, summoning us to the window, we were told that the notary service was $50 per document. We knew that the embassy charged for notarization but we were unaware the price was that high. However, with as smitten as we are with these boys, even an unexpected $200 fee is worthwhile just as long as it will get them home to us. The situation took a much appreciated turn, though, when we were informed by another embassy agent that we did not have to pay the fee at all. Two of the documents did not require a notarization and the second two were notarized without cost. We were sent back to the cashier to receive a full refund, and the two smiling Benjamins were happily replaced in our wallet.
Not knowing how the course of the day would flow, I wasn’t sure if we would be able to see the boys again before we left. I was so thankful that our driver was more than willing to take us by the care center for another hour with our sons. Even though I knew their reactions would be rather anticlimactic, I still wanted to share the news with them that the judge had made us their parents. Sure enough, Lao Da’s response was to point at that ever-elusive toy on top of the wardrobe and Lao Er seemed more interested in the Baby’s First Christmas onesie he was wearing than my thrilling news. As we were preparing to leave, I whispered to both of them the scripture that had encouraged me the day before: And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:3). We had a sweet last visit with them, which sadly ended with Lao Da crying when I finally returned him to the baby room. We could still hear his wails as we shut the gate behind us and climbed into the van.
Our flight didn’t leave until after midnight, so we took the opportunity for a date night and went to see an English movie at the theater down the street from our hotel. Thought I wouldn’t necessarily call “The Adjustment Bureau” a cinematic masterpiece, it served its purpose of killing time before we were set to leave for the airport. Once we got there, we finally managed to rescue the kiddo’s shoes from customs. Then we boarded the plane once more to head back home. We were most definitely the only white people on the entire flight.
It feels a little empty not to have our boys with us, though I will say I’m not really looking forward to a fifteen-hour flight with them. I’m thankful that we had the opportunity to meet them and know them in ways that mere photographs couldn’t previously communicate. I’m thankful that we found fat & happy little boys instead of languishing orphans. I’m thankful for the care I’m confident our sons will receive until I get to take the helm as their mother & caretaker. I’m thankful for the dozens of pictures I have to scrutinize over during the next two months until I get to hold them again. I’m thankful that the ultimate goal of this trip was successful and that we are now one step closer to having these boys in our home.
Thankful. Just thankful.