Thursday, June 9, 2011

Iced Tea

I opened the refrigerator to get her snack ready.  She was standing in front of me and she glanced in the refrigerator as I opened it.  Suddenly, her eyes became wide as saucers and she exclaimed, “Mommy we’re almost out of iced tea!”  I was puzzled by this reaction.  
“We can get more iced tea.”  I said.  
“Can we get it by tomorrow?”  She asked with a sense of urgency in her voice.  
“Is there a reason we have to have it for tomorrow?”  I asked.  
“Mommy, you know I want to have a tea party when I get adopted!  She exclaimed.  I want to get adopted tomorrow!  We can’t have a tea party tomorrow if we have no iced tea!  Can I get adopted tomorrow, Mommy?”  Her pleading brown eyes looked questioningly at me for an answer.
I had no answer.  I had no voice.  All I had was an aching in my heart that literally hurt and a lump in my throat that prevented me from speaking.  I knelt down to her three-foot level, wrapped her in my arms and held her tight as if she would vanish right before my very eyes.  She hugged me back and we stayed in that embrace for a very long time.  I fought back the tears that threatened to erupt into sobs.  When I finally let go of her I said, “Lulu, do you know how much mommy loves you?”  She answered with the usual response: “This much?”  She’d hold her fingers just slightly apart.  I’d answer, “No.”  Then she’d spread her fingers a little more apart. “This much?” She’d giggle.  “No.”  I’d shake my head.  We’d go through this little game until she had her arms stretched out as wide as they could go.  “This much?”  She’d yell.  “Yes!”  I’d yell back as we gave each other a big bear hug.  
“I love you this much.” I’d say.  “I love you as much as the whole universe.  I love you more than you’ll ever know.  I’ll love you this much forever.”  All the while I’d silently wonder: How do you explain to a four-year-old orphan from Haiti that her chances of adoption are precarious at best?  How do you explain that the adoption could take years and will require a trip to Haiti for an undetermined amount of time?  
Of course, I cannot explain it to her.  I can only love her and care for her and pray that she will one day be officially adopted.  She is my child already – adopted or not.  It is just a formality.  Yet, it is not a formality to the government.  Everyday, we face the very real threat of her being sent back to Haiti at any time because of visa issues.  Everyday, I wonder if this is the day we will get the news that she has to go.
As I closed the refrigerator, I looked at the myriad of pictures stuck to the door:  Lulu dressed as a nun in “Sister Act”, Lulu in her clown costume, Lulu asleep in daddy’s lap, Katie holding her in her arms… Lulu’s smiling face blanketed our refrigerator just as her smile and laughter has blanketed our lives.  She is a piece of work!  As my grandmother used to say; “No flies on her!”  
Lulu was sixteen months old when she literally arrived on our doorstep in her car seat.  She came to us through Healing the Children because she had birth defects that needed correcting.  We did not anticipate the length of stay she would require (she is now going on five-years-old).  We already had four children and were not intending on having a fifth.  Our intentions were to hopefully find an adoptive family for Lulu during her stay in the United States.  Well, needless to say, our plans changed as we came to know and love this incredible child.  We could no more send her off to another home than we could send one of our own children away.  God has entrusted her to our family and we will love her as our own.  
At sixteen months, Lulu knew one word: Hallelujah!  She would crawl around the house and suddenly stop, throw her hands up in the air, and yell, hallelujah.  It was the cutest thing I ever saw.  At dinner, when we said prayers, she would always finish with a, “hallelujah!”  I learned later that the reason this was the only word seemingly in her vocabulary was they cried, “hallelujah” in the orphanage whenever they received food, water or other necessities.  We called her our “hallelujah baby”.  
She still is my “hallelujah baby”.  Yes, she is stubborn and strong-willed.  Sometimes, when she is tired and cranky, she gets downright mean!  She often tells me I am the meanest mommy around and insists she is moving to her best friend’s house because her best friend’s mommy is nicer.  She unties her shoes and pulls the shoelaces out in the car just because she knows it infuriates me.  She climbs on the kitchen counter, stuffs toilet paper down the bathroom sink, colors on the walls and screams during time-out.  She can tie her own shoes, go across the monkey bars in lightening speed, play tennis, write her first and last name, read all the letters in the alphabet, count to 100, but she cannot put on her PJ’s at bedtime.  She would try the patience of Mother Theresa.  Yet, I believe, it is that strong-willed spirit that has seen her through the first few years of her life.   
Her life began in Haiti as a child born with numerous birth defects.  Her mother, knowing the very real threat of her child being killed, turned Lulu over to an orphanage.  The orphanage sought to get her medical treatment and thus she came to us through Healing the Children.  She had a bi-lateral cleft lip and palate which has since been corrected.  She also has other birth defects that will take numerous surgeries to correct.  Remarkably, in spite of her severe cleft lip and palate, she had adapted to drinking from a regular bottle.  It was her adaptability and spirit that endeared her to the people at the orphanage. They could have chosen from many children who also needed surgery, but they choose Lulu because, as one orphanage worker explained, she had a fighting spirit and we wanted her to have a chance at a good life.
Now, the baton has been passed to my family and we must make that dream come true.  I will fight to the ends of the earth for this child.  She knows that.  I will go to Haiti.  I will go wherever God sends me to give her that chance at a good life.  Ask any adoptive parent – these are our children regardless of flesh and blood.  We love them all the same. 
So, here I stand in front of the refrigerator, staring at the iced tea.  Can we get some more iced tea for my adoption party?  It’s such a simple heart-felt request from a little girl who wants nothing more then to belong to her family.  
I take her in my arms and I hold her.  I hold her so tight as if it will prevent her from being taken out of my arms.  I whisper in her ear.  “Let’s get to the store; we have a tea party to plan!”    
This story was written six years ago.  I am happy to say that Lulu was officially adopted when she was seven.  Her adoption was a true miracle.  We were told that the chances of the adoption going through were about 2% because her medical visa had long since expired.  We had all our prayer warriors praying daily that God would intercede - and he did!  The miracle happened by a “fluke” when one judge was filling in for the judge assigned to Lulu’s adoption.  The “fill in” judge signed the adoption papers on August 27, 2007 without us even knowing.  They arrived one day in the mail.  Needless to say, I cried (happy tears) all day long (and yelled a few “hallelujahs” too) .  When Lulu arrived home from school that day, I had the entire house decorated with banners that said, “Welcome home PAOLA (her given name) HENDERSON”.  And, of course, I met her at the door with Iced tea in hand.