Reflections on Elliott’s Adoption: One Year Later

Today, December 7, 2011 is a special day for the Parks family.  One year ago today, Melinda and I took a short cab ride from our hotel in Ukraine to the orphanage that our newest child, Elliott Peter, had lived in since he arrived there from the hospital as a small baby.  In some ways, it was the end of a big step in our journey that had begun exactly one year and one day before when we officially began our adoption journey.  In other ways, it was merely the start of an incredible time that we wouldn’t trade for anything.  But that wasn’t what was on our minds as we took the ride to the orphanage.  Instead, we were excited.  We were nervous.  We were in awe of how God had been at work during our time in Ukraine.  We were ready to officially get our youngest son!

As we made that drive, I had a million and one thoughts running through my mind.  But one thing in particular stood out.  You see, I was in the delivery room for the birth of Anna and Ryan and I remember what it felt like waiting for them to arrive.  I remember the excitement of the birthing process.  I remember the activity.  I remember the anxiety.  And then, almost in an instant, they were born and I got to witness them taking their first breath.  It was very exciting to me to know that both Anna and Ryan would grow up calling me “daddy.”

Melinda & Elliott at the orphanage
Melinda & Elliott at the orphanage

It was different for Elliott.  I wasn’t there the day he took his first breath.  Unfortunately, we don’t know a lot about that day.  I’m sure there was a lot of anxiety as he was born nearly 2 months early.  However, I will always remember the day Melinda and I were standing in a small room in an orphanage the day after Thanksgiving 2010 waiting for a worker to walk in carrying our new son.  As she entered the room and I saw him for the first time, I knew in an instant that I loved him, just as I had the first time I saw Anna and Ryan.  It may seem strange to say that, but we knew that this was the child God had led us to.  We were ready right then and there to take Elliott home and oh, how our hearts ached each day that we could only go and visit with him for 3 hours, before we had to return him to the arms of the caregiver.  But now, on this day, December 7, 2010, we would welcome him into our arms and we would never, ever have to return him to one of the workers.  This is what we had longed for.  This is what we were ready for.  No longer would Elliott be an orphan.  He was now our son.

On that cold, December morning, as we pulled in through the gates of the orphanage one final time, it seemed as

Ryan, Anna and Elliott at the NC State Fair
Ryan, Anna & Elliott at the NC State Fair in October

through the grey clouds lifted for a short while to signify that it was a new day.  I remember the anticipation we felt as we waited to get the coveted slip of paper that would allow us to officially take Elliott home.  We made our way to the building his group lived in and climbed the stairs one last time.  As we handed the piece of paper to the worker, her eyes grew wide and she became very excited.  She knew that this piece of paper, this one small, simple piece of paper meant that their darling little “Petruccio” (their fun way of saying Petr, his given name) was finally getting his forever family.  He was going home.

The team of caregivers gathered around us as we held Elliott and they were waving, crying and smiling.  This had been the “family” that God placed Elliott in until we could get there.  They were all he knew.  To be certain, they were sad, but they knew that this was what was best for him.  He was now with his “mama” and “papa,” and they told him so.  As we started to head out the door, they were shouting “pica, pica, pica,” which was their way of saying “hello” and “goodbye” to our little guy.  He smiled, but was very comfortable in Melinda’s arms as we made our way downstairs and into the cab.  As we got in the car to drive away, Elliott began to cry.  He’d never been in a car before in his life and I’m sure it was quite scary for him.  But eventually, we were able to soothe him and reassure him to the point that he settled.  From there, we began the journey toward home and all that would be ahead for us as we welcomed him into our family.

Looking back over the past year, we’ve seen so many changes in Elliott from our time in Ukraine.  For a boy that was so small, he’s gotten quite a bit bigger!  He eats just about everything in sight, he loves playing with trucks and occasionally getting into a little mischief.  He’s also built a very

Elliott in his Appalachian State shirt
Elliott proudly wearing his App State shirt!

strong bond with his brother and sister.  Early on, I made up a little song called “The Best of Brothers” to let them know how special it was to have a brother and would sing it to the boys as we put them to bed.  Now, they do all the normal things that brothers do: wrestle, laugh, make strange noises and try their hardest to team up against their sister!

But the most exciting – and revealing – thing, to me, happened fairly recently.  The morning after I returned home from a business trip to Minneapolis, I came downstairs to find Elliott running around and playing an elaborate game of “chase” with Anna.  Elliott saw me and instantly ran over to me to give me a big hug and was shouting “daddy, daddy, daddy!”  In that instant, I knew that this boy, who spent the first 1 1/2 years of his life without a family to call his own, was exactly where he was supposed to be– with his family, in his home, safe, secure and loved.

It’s been an amazing year.  Here’s to many more, my son.  We thank God for bringing you into our lives and we love you!  Happy “gotcha” day!

Elliott’s First Ever July 4th Celebration

It is amazing what kinds of events can transpire during the course of a single year. At this time last year, my wife, Melinda, and I were in the process of adopting our youngest son, Elliott.  As we marked Independence Day last year, I took a few minutes in a post on our adoption blog to look ahead at what life might be like for our son as this would be the last July 4th he would spend without a family. (clarification: at the time, we did not know if we were adopting 1 or 2 children, and we did not know that Elliott would be the child God had chosen for us; we learned all of that in November once we arrived in Ukraine).

Now, we are celebrating July 4th, 2011 and Elliott has been home with us for a little more than 6 months.  In many ways, it seems as though he has always been in our family, which is a good sign.  But every now and then, Melinda and I think a little about what life was like in Ukraine and how that contrasts with life in the United States.  Our little

Melinda & Elliott at the orphanage
Melinda & Elliott at the orphanage

Elliott, who is really starting to show his personality now, lived in a Soviet-era orphanage, complete with the requisite cinder-block walls and institutional feel.  Elliott was well-loved and cared for there and we will always be grateful to his caretakers for what they did for him during the first months of his life.  But, children aren’t meant to live in orphanages.  They are meant to be a part of families who love them, care for them and provide for them.

On July 4, 2010, Elliott was just another child in a ward of a Ukrainian orphanage without a lot of hope in life.  On July 4, 2011, he is a bright and vibrant child that is excelling in his development, chasing his brother and sister and delighting his parents with his laugh and his wonderful way of saying “helloooo!”

Melinda, Elliott, Ryan & Anna
Melinda, Elliott, Ryan & Anna

To me, this is the quintessential American story.  A child, without family and without hope in his own land, is given a new chance in a new country.  Today, Elliott will join us as we travel to the old State Capitol building in downtown Raleigh.  He will stand with us as we listen to a reading of the Declaration of Independence.  He will hear the music, see the colonial themed costumes and enjoy watching all of the people on the grounds.  He will enjoy his lunch sitting on a blanket on the lawn outside on the Capitol grounds.  He will enjoy eating homemade ice cream with friends.  He will see fireworks for the first time ever as we watch, from a safe distance, in the town of Rolesville.  And he will fall asleep in his own crib, safe and secure.  This year, on Independence Day, Elliott is a little two-year old boy, growing up in America.  Will he know the difference between last year and this year?  Probably not.  But we, his parents, will.  And we are so thankful to have this charming and sweet little boy in our family.

Happy 4th of July everyone!

note: this entry is cross-posted on JonParks.com

Thoughts on July 4th and Adoption

July 4th is a wonderful time each year for our family.  We love to do the traditional things like grill out, make a trip to a pool and watch fireworks (lots and lots of fireworks!).  We also like to read through portions of the Declaration of Independence as a reminder of exactly why our nation was created and the principles that are important to us, especially the concept of freedom.

This year, however, I found my typical thoughts about July 4th focusing on what our children in the Ukraine will think about our American holiday once they are Americans.  To recap– when we adopt the children and bring them home with us, the moment they touch down on U.S. soil and pass through customs with their Citizenship and Immigration Service paperwork, they will become Americans– right away!  It’s exciting to know that I will be there at the exact moment that two of my children become American citizens!

So, this year, the children we’re adopting spent July 4th in an orphanage in the Ukraine, totally unaware of what July 4th means to Americans.  And next year, Lord willing, they will be in the United States, they will be Americans and they will be enjoying the holiday that celebrates freedom.  And they will do it while getting used to the idea of what their new country is all about.  Bottom line: even though the last round of fireworks is just about to die out for this year’s July 4th celebration, I’m already excited and looking forward to July 4th 2011!

Why I Want to Adopt

A couple of days ago, you heard from Melinda about “A Mother’s Heart for Adoption.”  Mel’s heart has been very clear and strong from the beginning about how she feels about the adoption and I’m glad she was able to share some of it in the video.  And, in general, I believe that it is a little easier for moms to talk about that subject.  For men, the world tells us that we’re supposed to be “tough, stoic and in control at all times.”  We “can’t be ruled by emotion” because we have to make level-headed decisions.  And like a lot of guys, I fit into that category a lot of times.  Except on this topic.  Don’t get me wrong– I’m not ruled by emotion (and there’s plenty of emotion to go around when you’re in the adoption process).  But I’ve definitely learned how to be attuned to the ways in which God has spoken to my heart about the children that we’ve been called to adopt.

So, you might ask: why do I, Jon Parks, want to adopt?  It’s a fair question.  After all, I’m the father of two wonderful and healthy children and they are definitely a blessing to our family.  I’m married to one of the most beautiful, smart and talented women around.  I’ve got a great job where I get to use my talents to do some fun and (sometimes) amazing things.   I enjoy the company of good friends and family.  So, in the eyes of some, it might seem like trying to adopt sort of flies in the face of all that.  You might even be tempted to think “isn’t bringing in two children that don’t speak our language and don’t know anything about our culture going to wreck all of that?”  Or perhaps something like “what if the adopted children have health issues?  Won’t that take away time, attention and resources from Anna and Ryan?”  It’s OK if you’ve thought that, because honestly, I wondered about some of those same things when we were first called to adoption.  Yeah, that’s right– I’m not perfect.  I was a little hesitant about adoption, too.

You see, when I was growing up, I was a part of a family of four.  My mom, my dad, my sister and me.  Two parents, one boy and one girl.  That seemed “normal” to me.  And in fact, it was quite “normal.”  I have a great family and had one of the most amazing childhoods that anyone could ever ask for.  But the idea that you might have more than two children in a family seemed, well, it seemed a little odd to me.

And then I met Melinda.  Mel had an older brother and an older sister.  As we dated, and later after we were married, we would discuss what would be the “ideal” number of children for us to have.  I would say “two”; Mel would say “three.”  It was a friendly discussion, but I was always convinced that I would win out.  Because you know, from a level-headed perspective, it is just too darn costly to support more than two kids! 🙂

And then we had Anna.  Wow.  Boy did that ever open my world.  For the first time, I saw what it meant to love someone that you didn’t really know much about.  And not just a puppy-love kind of way.  No.  Instead it was in a way that says “I love every single thing about you.  Yes– even when you poop on my hand while I’m changing your diaper!”  I love my little girl and after I learned more about being a daddy, I quickly realized that I wanted as many children as we could possibly have.

And then we had Ryan.  Ryan is a completely different personality.  In fact, he’s more like Melinda.  Very lively, great personality and really likable.  He’s also a lot like a bowling ball.  He’s always rolling around and knocking into things (and then laughing about it in a way that only a two-year old really can!).  My relationship with Ryan is a whole lot more rough and tumble (think one-on-one indoor tackle football) and it is amazing how God uses that to build a strong bond between us.  I truly love my son.

So, fast forward to the Fall of 2009.  I’m driving in my car on my way back to the office and listening to a couple talk about how adopting children transformed their lives.  That’s right– transformed their lives.  Like a lot of people, I bought into the popular belief that the parents were doing this amazing thing to help these poor little children that lived in awful conditions.  Instead, this couple talked about the way that God used the entire adoption process to transform them!  He used it to strengthen their relationship with Him.  He used it to show them how they had been adopted into His eternal family.  He used it to show them that there was much more to life than just going to work, accumulating more “things” and trying to climb the ladder in society to achieve higher levels of success.  Yes– they were going to be able to make a difference in the life of a child, but God was going to make a difference in their lives too.  And that’s where I really came to understand it– answering the call to adopt is about being obedient to the path that God has called you to and letting Him transform you.

So, why do I want to adopt?  It may sound hokey, but I want to adopt because God called me to.  He showed me the wonderful journey that I’ve been on as a father the past few years and how He used that to strengthen my faith in Him, how He made me a better father and how He transformed me as a Husband.  And He has shared with me that adoption is the next part of my journey in life.

Of course, I also want to adopt because He has shown me that there are children in this world that go to be every night and they do not know anyone called “mom” or “dad.”  There are children that, when they are afraid, they do not have anyone to turn to to put their arm around them and hold them to provide comfort.  There are children that do not have much in the way of hope beyond their relatively short time in the orphanage and almost no hope of how to avoid the evils that await them in the world.  There are children that, simply put, will be lost unless someone stands up, steps forward and willingly commits to being their parents.

That’s what I want to do.  That’s why I want to adopt.  I want to stand up and be used by God to make a difference in the lives of others.  Thanks for coming along with us on this journey.  I hope we’ll be able to share more with you about the transformation that is taking place.