Tuesday, March 27, 2012

When the House Burns Down

There were so many unknowns. After we first saw our kids' pictures, we braced for the possibility that things could fall apart. When we got to Uganda, we braced for the possibility that we might not be granted guardianship by the Ugandan judge. Then we braced for the possibility that the US embassy might not grant our children visas to enter the United States. During all this time we were supposed to be bonding (technically the correct term is attaching) with our kids. As much as I wanted to let go, the truth is I was emotionally guarded. I hear people say that the very first moment they saw their child, that they would be willing to die for them. I wish I could say that was true for me. But it wasn't. That's a hard thing to admit. I admit this because if it had not been for me having heard other people admit the same thing, I would have thought something was terribly wrong.

One step in the process was TB (tuberculosis) testing. They inject a tiny bit of something under the skin. Then you wait 3 days to see if there is a reaction. A reaction is a bad thing. Our kids realized that they were in for a medically related visit and they went completely bonkers. They fed off of each other. I wrapped my legs around Sarah's body. I positioned my head to avoid getting my teeth knocked out or my nose broken from a head butt. I used one arm to pin her upper body and the other arm to death grip her wrist and hold her arm out for the nurse to do her thing. Sarah went into a full on rage. She wasn't just crying. She wasn't just screaming. She was screaming like she was watching someone being stabbed to death. She was screaming MOMMY MOMMY MOMMMMMEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!! This wasn't just a loud cry, it was rage. I do know what I'm talking about. Under those words, her voice was really screaming MOMMY!!! HOW COULD YOU BETRAY ME? I HATE YOU! LIAR! YOU LIE! YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE MY MOMMY! YOU ARE HURTING ME! HOW COULD YOU DO THIS!?!?!?! We had some little dum dum suckers on hand for the occasion. By the time Sarah was done, Josh was fumbling to get one out for her and I hissed "give that thing to her now!" Now our kids LOVED suckers in Uganda. They were fanatical about them. And on that day she didn't even want to take it. She didn't put it in her mouth for a full hour afterwards. She wouldn't make eye contact with me for hours. The other 3 screamed bloody murder too, but Sarah definitely took it the worst. It was a truly awful day.

We came back 3 days later to complete the TB test process. The kids all freaked at the sight of the same building again. When we went back into the exam room and the same nurse was there, they began to scream just from her trying to look at their arms. JoAni had a small reaction which meant that she had to have a chest x-ray to look for active TB. I had no idea what it would mean if she came up positive. I couldn't explain what was happening. I didn't know what was happening. She started to cry. She was scared that she was going to get left behind; that we would leave her. I couldn't promise her that it would be okay. I had no idea if it would be okay. I got pretty scared myself. That second trip was pretty upsetting. Another awful day. 

I was so nervous when we went to the embassy. I had explained to the kids in broken English so that they could understand, that the embassy had to say yes in order for them to go to America. They have major radar for when we are not telling them what is going on. So we had to tell them what this was. But I was so scared that they would ask what if the embassy says no? They didn't until just before the day came. I kind of dodged the question. That only made them nervous. But the answer is that they would not be able to come home with us and we would not be able to stay in Uganda with them. I couldn't tell them that. I just couldn't. 

The embassy required that their grandmother show up for the interview. The purpose of the interview as I understand it is to determine whether or not the children qualify under the US definition of an orphan and to ensure that everything was legit. After being there for just a little while, Josh got called to go down to the gate to escort the grandmother up. Later he would tell me that when he got down there, they were arguing that they would not allow the grandmother to get out of the car right in front of the embassy. You see, for security reasons they do not allow anyone to stop their car in front of the embassy. They told them that they would have to park down the street and get a wheelchair. We had no wheelchair for her. There was a man that was arranged to carry her. They finally were allowed to unload her there and the man carried her all the way up the hill from the front gate to the building. As it was on the court day, she was in a ton of pain. Everyone in the waiting room froze as they sat her down and she struggled to gather herself. I encouraged the kids to go talk to her and give her the pictures that they had been coloring. My first reason for this was to distract her from her pain because that is a special power that grandkids have. My second reason was that I wanted them to get what little time with her that they could. The kids told their grandmother their new names. I explained, through JoAni who translated for us, that we were keeping their first names, that their middle names were Josh's mom's name and my mom's name and Josh's middle name and my middle name, that their last name would be our shared family name. She smiled and nodded with approval that their names would brand them as part of our family.

They called us in for the interview. We went into a little room with the woman behind the glass. She asked us about how things had come about. She asked us all kinds of questions. She asked the kids who we were. They answered "mommy and daddy." She asked them if they wanted to go live with us or go home with their grandmother. I know why she asked this. She wanted to see if anything fishy popped out. But it felt like such an unfair question to ask a child. They loved their grandmother. They still do. But they couldn't go back with her. She couldn't care for them anymore. They knew that. Then she said "I am going to grant your petition." We said thank you, got up to leave, and I told JoAni and Syliva "she said yes." JoAni double checked "she said yes?" I told her "yes, this is the woman who says yes or no. She said yes." JoAni and Sylvia went past me and up to the glass and said "thank you for say yes, thank you." 

They never did talk to the grandmother. The only thing I can figure is that they saw how much pain she was in every time she got moved at all. It would have been so painful just for her to be moved into the interview room. Just her presence must have been statement enough. We came out of the interview room and JoAni helped me talk to their grandmother. I told her that they said yes, that we would get their visas on Wednesday (this was Monday), visit them to say goodbye on Thursday, and leave for America on Friday. She put her arms up with her elbows at a 90 degree angle and said "Jesus! Jesus!" as she looked up to heaven giving thanks. Everyone in the room, including other families, teared up. 

Two days later, I stayed back at the hotel while Josh went to the embassy to get the visas. We were staying at a guest house where about 4 other adopting families were also staying. When Josh got back, I instantly demanded "did you get them!?!?!" This was the key to everything. He told me yes but.... But while he was there he watched another family being told that their request was not being granted. Tasha had come out of the interview room bawling. I was stunned to say the least. I told Josh "you watch the kids, I have to go to her, we are watching their kids tonight" (they had 3 kids total there, 2 bio, 1 Ugandan). I was frantically searching for them and came to their room to see the door open and the kids all standing there looking bewildered and lost. I asked them where their mommy was and insisted that they show me where to find her. The led me to the living room and then pointed out to the balcony where I saw that couple on their knees with another couple praying over them. 

Now let me stop and say something. I am not interested at this moment in talking about what is right and wrong. I am talking about the impact on the families. Pure and simple.

I was crying as I fell to my knees with them. I could hardly breathe. Such pain. So very much pain. The look on their faces was panic, loss, and heart break. That night, all the families at the guest house watched the kids together. That couple went off to a restaurant to regroup, figure out what just happened, and what that meant to them (for their story, click here). Later we learned that multiple families were in this position.

Friday rolled around and it was time for us to fly home... together. The car arrived. We loaded up. And we said goodbye. As we pulled out, Tasha and one other woman (who shall remain nameless as she still hasn't managed to get her babies home) stood at the door waiving goodbye. I felt like we were fleeing as the house burned down around us and as we left others behind. I can still see those 2 women in my mind, standing there.

We stopped at the other guest house that we had stayed at to say goodbye and dropped off some supplies with a family we met that had been denied guardianship by their Ugandan judge (for their story, click here). I remember telling her that I was glad I didn't know about their story before we came. It would have scared me too much. I'm not sure I could have chosen to take that risk. So very scary. As we drove out of the compound of that second guest house, we said goodbye to yet another family and wished them luck in getting home soon. 

For weeks after, I kept returning to that feeling of escaping the burning building.