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!

Adjusting and Connecting

I realize I never posted that we actually arrived home…but once we were home things got very busy:)  The plane ride home was as you would expect a 9+ hour flight to be with a 17 month old who hardly knows us and who has never exeperienced as much stimulation as three plane rides and busy airports!  We endured it and promised Elliott he did not have to travel on long plane rides again anytime in the near future.  We did get a great USCIS agent in Washington D.C. when Elliott officially became a citizen.  We asked if there was any balloons or confetti and he laughed and said “no” but he would offer Elliott a high five if he didn;t look so darn tired:)

One of the biggest adjustments for me has actually been my lack of time.  Not that I did not expect this to be true, but after spending three weeks with mainly having one 3 hour appointment each day and no other chores or commitments, I have been rudely met with more responsibilities and adjustments than I really anticipated.  I am having to work harder than expected to keep Christ my focus and rely on His strength now that we are home.  I have found myself in constant prayer conversation giving Him praise for the million little blessings all day and asking for wisdom with Elliott, wisdom with Ryan, wisdom with Anna, wisdom…wisdom…wisdom.

Anna and Ryan are a wonderful big brother and big sisiter for Elliott.  They are anxious to help him, teach, him, hug him, etc…  Reconnecting with Anna and Ryan and finding our new rhythm as a family is my biggest priority each day and is a bit of a slow process.  Ryan, especially, is having some trouble reconnecting with me and letting his feelings out from all that has happened for three weeks.  His difficulties remind me how hard it is when I am away from God by not doing my bible study, neglecting my prayer life, or even not listening to praise music.  I am sure God mourns my silence much like I am mourning the struggles Ryan is having to reconnect with me.  The difference, of course, is that Ryan did not choose to be absent from me for three weeks.  When I neglect God, it is my choice whether or not I realize it at the time.

We are adjusting and I have written on my planner the date when we would have been home for 30 days.  I am not going to be too concerned with habits or adjustments until that 30 day mark.  Once we are at 30 days, I can focus on habits or patterns in sleeping, adjusting, attitudes, that may have crept in.  What I mean is, if the boys are waking each other up now while sharing a room, I am not going to think it will be that way forever..If Elliott screams every time he sees a car and thinks he has to get in, I am not going to think it will be that way forever.  I am going to ask for strength for each day and celebrate each day and then look for issues that need addressing after 30 days.  We are ALL adjusting to one another, to sharing rooms, to reconnecting for now.  We are going to hibernate and fall in love as a family again for as long as it takes.  If I seem to have gone silent or have disappeared from events and usual happeneings…you will know why!

We Are Ready to Travel for Home!!!

Hello, friends!

We finished up our final paperwork and got Elliott’s travel visa for our return trip home!  All of our requirements are finished.  We are so ready to begin our long flights home.  We are going to head to one final trip to the Ukrainian cafeteria after Elliott finishes his morning nap:)  We are prepareing our suitcases and are going to head to bed early since our driver will be picking us up at 3am to head to the airport.  We are still praying we will not be delayed due to heavy snow in Munich.  We are trusting that God has allowed the weather and He is guiding our steps, so we will certainly be where we need to be tomorrow ( we just pray we are on a plane).  Thinking through logisitics of flying such a long distance with Elliott has been challenging, but we are prepared as we can be with what we have available!

When we touch down in Washington, D.C. we will hand our sealed packet of information to the USCIS officer at the airport, and at that moment, Elliott will officially become a U.S. citizen.  I am sure there won’t be a big fanfare, but we will make our own big fanfare!

Elliott has been a real trouper since we got him Tuesday.  he has had so many “firsts” and has handled it far better than we expected.  I am ready to get back to our home where things are better equipped for a curious, fast crawling little boy!  I will really appreciate so many things when we get home that I had previously taken for granted.  One of those will be a “child-proofed” home!

We do not expect to have any internet access once we leave our apartment in Kiev to go to the airport.  We will have computer access again once we are home.  Please join us in prayer for God to open the door wide for our flights to be on time and for us to arrive home quickly.

Thanks for the prayers for Jon’s eye.  He got to speak with his eye doctor yesterday.  We were able to google the russian alphabet and translate the name of his eye drops ( thank goodness for Proper nouns!) and find the eye drops on a Google search so Jon could tell his eye doctor the name of the drops.  After some back and forth , his doctor was able to let him know he could both drops together.  He also has an eye appointment for Monday afternoon!  He has had some relief from the pain.  His eye is far from healed, but the relief from the extreme discomfort has been a blessing for him today.  We both pray the lengthy time in an airplane does not agitiate again beyond what he can ease with his drops.

With our very late arrival on Saturday night combined with jet lag and logistics for Elliott to sleep, etc…we will not actually see Anna and Ryan until Sunday.  Please be considerate if you happen to see either of them before Sunday and don’t mention our exact arrival day!  We will let them know we are getting in late Saturday, but we will finally get to see them on Sunday! We are ready to begin the process of bonding and adjusting as a family of five.  We have some reconnecting and connecting to do between all of us:)

We are overwhlemed by the connectedness we have felt while here.  We spoke with a few more families today at the Embassy.  One mom thought she would be here for 5-6 weeks and she has been here for a little over 3 months due to various glitches.  She and her three new children fly out for Paris tonight.  It was amazing to hear her story.  We have so much additional insights and blessings from God to share with everyone when we return.  There are so many things that are just too numerous to record each day.  I can say that I feel VERY privileged to have been on this adoption journey and feel so humbled as I have seen our awesome God more this trip than I could ever have imagined.