It was a cold morning in February and I was home alone, sewing, when our caseworker called with the news. I listened carefully and thanked her. She said, "This is good news, Lauren, " as a reminder of sorts. We'd weathered a pretty big disappointment the previous fall and I was still wary of anything claiming to be "good news".
Steve and I looked at the facts and we talked it over and we sent the ever important "yes" email and we knew- the "yes" is just the beginning. Saying yes is like holding hands and jumping off a cliff. It's usually some months later before you find out if you are actually attached to a rope.
The days went by. Spring, and then summer. There was the usual mountain of paperwork that grew and diminished. Trips downtown and to the capital. Notaries, notaries, notaries. And waiting. Always waiting.
In September, we put Arthur to bed and prepared to stay up late and opened up the computer and there she was. Coloring, playing, peering at us and smiling. We waved and showed our best stuffed animals and smiled until our cheeks hurt.
Fall found me checking my email obsessively at 9 am for any news that may have arrived in the night. We talked to Arthur, showed pictures. He stayed up late to see her on the screen and after they colored together and made funny faces, he woke up the next day and said, "Mom, we just need to go get her."
In December I starting clearing the calendar. We bought some clothes and set up a little bed in our room, hoping, hoping that someone would be sleeping there soon. Just a few days before the year was over, we got the news that we'd been waiting for. I let out the breath I didn't know I'd been holding since February and started packing.
In my mind, there was never a doubt as to whether or not we'd take Arthur with us. But after seventeen hours of flying, I was beginning to wonder if international travel could be considered a form of child abuse. We sat, the three of us, in an airport restaurant in Tokyo, eating food that no one could quite identify. Steve and I both had the dazed look of people who have been awake for over 24 hours, entertaining a preschooler on an airplane. Suddenly, Arthur piped up and said "This is fun, guys!", which made me want to simultaneously burst into tears and die laughing. He's a real treasure, that one.
Arriving in Taiwan felt a lot like coming home, so much so that it surprised me. How can a country I've spent less than a collective month in feel like home? But there are people and places we know there now, and they're all tied up in the growing of our family, so they take on a rosy hue and have become a part of us. It was so, so good to be back._______________________________________________________________________________
When we picked up Arthur, I remember thinking about how brave he seemed- this small person who quietly took my hand and went with us, unquestioning, to a completely different life. Our girl is different from Arthur and brave in her own way. She has been, from the start, ready to look out for herself. The first week she was with us, she wouldn't even lay down to fall asleep. She wanted to keep each of us in her sight at all times. She took possession of as many things as she could in our small hotel room, pointing to them and stating her name loudly, daring any of us to disagree with her.
We spent the next few days tying up loose ends and trying to get home. Our family had turned into a tornado of sorts, wrecking hotel rooms and airplanes, grocery aisles and rental cars. We tore through a Walmart in Detroit at 4 am, where we opened all the foods and just ate as we walked and I let my kids have bottles of juice in the shopping cart which they of course dripped on the floor everywhere we went. The floor polishing guy followed close behind us and I couldn't muster up even one ounce of guilt. It had been a hard week.
I used to have a poster hanging in my apartment that said "Time eases all things", which Natalie always thought was a pessimistic thing to have hanging in your home. But it's a good reminder, you know? And if I needed it at age 20 when I was relatively care-free, oh how much more do I need it today.
We are five months into this new life together. Although it is certainly easier than at the very start, I remind myself regularly that it's still early days. I have yet to figure out how to grocery shop with both kids. We use paper plates more than half of the time. Dinner is often canned soup or grilled cheese sandwiches. I've worried about issues I never even knew were a thing prior to this year. I play the "she doesn't speak English" card when we're out in public to excuse bad behavior, even though I'm pretty sure she understands 80% of what we're saying.
But there are sweet moments. The kids hold hands and jump into the pool or giggle under a blanket fort and I get a glimpse of the best friends I hope they will be. The four of us play in the ocean and, for one moment, everyone is happy. We are getting to know and love the force that is Helen Chen. And it really hit me the other day when our old neighbors stopped by for a quick visit. Their nine year old daughter was asking about Helen and our trip and she said "Are you so happy now that you have four people in your family?"
There were difficult months- years even- when I firmly believed that we would never make it to four. Yet here we were. The kids were riding bikes up and down the street and Steve was chasing them and I was that kind of worn out that you only get from months without a break of any kind and I told her "Yes, yes. So happy."