Whirlwind Departure – (Reunions – Chapter 5)

Note: This is part of a longer story. To read earlier chapters, click on the category “Adoption Stories”


With the arrival of the picture, the craziness that was our life went into overdrive. There were no longer the generic thoughts of “a baby” – now my mind was subsumed by “Marya” – a specific baby who I had seen and who could be ours one day. I became obsessed with the idea of going to her and getting her out of that orphanage. Most of my mental energy was used up with futile attempts to suppress those thoughts. At the same time, the danger loomed larger than ever that it all could still go horribly wrong.

Our next few phone calls with the official at the Social Ministry didn’t dispel my fears. They were confusing and contradictory and slightly suspicious. We even wondered sometimes what we had gotten ourselves into. But then there was Maria. So . . . no turning back now. My mantra “must stay theoretical” became something of a joke.

The official, Mr. T, told us a different story in each conversation. He was always “going to see someone tomorrow” to get some signature or submit some petition or apply for a special court date. He explained that all the courts closed down in the month of the August, but there was an “emergency court” and he had been assured our adoption could be finalized there. He just needed the signature of “the president”. (Are we talking about the president of Ethiopia here? Is he involved in our adoption now too?) The topic of our actual, mysteriously silent representative, Mrs. Herewego, also came up. Mr. T revealed that the injuries from her earlier “accident” had actually been stab wounds – she had been robbed by knife-point apparently. It seemed he had taken over for her while she healed. Why he was doing this wasn’t clear to us, but we weren’t about to start asking questions.

More than a week had passed since that momentous first mentioning of Maria and the suggestion that it would only be another “two weeks” before everything was finalized. That time frame had gotten vaguer in the following calls and was finally dropped altogether. We really had no idea where we stood. Mr. T seemed to think that he could just wait till the court date and then say “Okay, come now” as if we could then just drop everything and hop on the next plane.

We were nowhere near ready. There were mandatory vaccinations to get, flights to book, accommodations to find. What would we do about the house renovations that were going on full steam at that moment? What were we going to do about our dogs – one of whom was not recuperating fast or well from her operation?

And we still didn’t have a single baby item in the house. No, that is not true. Someone had given us a baby bottle as a gag gift at our wedding 11 years earlier. I found it all dusty in the back corner of a storage cabinet in the basement. And, in a bizarre moment of impulsiveness, I had also bought a little Winnie the Pooh sippy cup – that would be helpful in, like . . . two years. Otherwise, realistic shopping was still completely out of the question. The idea of having baby things in the house scared me to death.

On a Wednesday in the second week of August, I started dialing the number of the official as arranged, wondering what story we would hear this time.

The official launched into a torrent of words – something about the president signing the petition and the emergency court judge agreeing to forego the advertising time and so we are all set. I asked him for clarification, what that all meant. His answer was “Monday.”

“What about Monday?”
“Court date on Monday.”
“Do you mean this coming Monday?”
“And that is the final court date?”
“Yes. Final date.”
“So . . . we can come . . . five days from now for Maria?”

The whirlwind began immediately, starting with a dozen phone calls. We discovered in those talks that everyone we knew and loved was ready to pounce – they had all also been waiting for this moment, just as we had. We needed masses of help if we were going to be ready to go in five days and that help came from all directions. Within an hour of hearing the news of the court date, my friend C. visiting from England offered to extend her stay to care for the house and dogs while we were in Ethiopia. My mother announced that she was sending us a sum of money that ended up covering the cost of the adoption, including the trip, and then some. The crew working on the house said they would make a push and finish the job that weekend. My parents- and sisters-in-law announced their impending visits with carloads of baby stuff and their intentions to help me do a spring housecleaning. And when I mentioned that I would be alone with Maria for a week right when we got home from Ethiopia (my husband having to go on a sports week with his school class), my own sister offered to fly over from the States to help me out. That was Wednesday.

By Thursday night our flights were booked (unfortunately the earliest one we could get was for the following Wednesday), our rooms in a mission in Addis Ababa were reserved, preparations for the working crew were done, a slightly more hopeful prognosis was given by the vet for my sick First Dog, the “East Africa Guidebook” was bought and I even had some time left to start reading “What to Expect in the First Year”. By Friday night, the plastering was done and the work crew gone for good – a whole day ahead of schedule. That gave us an unexpected free Saturday, which turned out to be a little gift from heaven.

For some reason, I woke up really early on Saturday only to discover First Dog lying in the middle of the living room with a big mess behind her. She was panting and suffering and couldn’t get up. It wasn’t even 6:00 am yet, but I called the vet anyway. She said she would be right over. I went to First Dog and sat next to her. She tried to lift her head but couldn’t. I held her and petted her and told her “Sandra is coming.” She gave me a little wag. Two minutes later, she started to have mini-spasms – just three or four – and then stopped breathing. By the time Sandra the vet came, she was gone.

I loved that dog so much and her going like that . . . well, the timing of it was more than bizarre. It felt like she had done one more, last, lovely thing for us. Waiting for me to wake up before she left. Departing on the one morning of the one day that wasn’t fully planned out in advance. Leaving before we did for Ethiopia, so that she wouldn’t die during our absence. Sparing us the agonizing decision of having to put her to sleep. Timing her departure so that we had time to deal with it before the excitement of the trip and of Maria set in for real. It was awful watching her die, but it would have been worse to wake up and find her that way, not knowing what had happened or how. She had waited, just to say goodbye.

Every person we talked to that day made some comment of wonder. For the first time in my life, I think, I had the strong feeling that there is some kind of greater plan. Not that I was getting religious. Through the kitchen window, I watched my husband digging a grave under a tree in the yard. Tears streamed down his face the whole time and it broke my heart. Burying First Dog did not feel good or cathartic in any way. I felt much better after framing my favorite picture of her and hanging it up in the front hall. The reality and finality of it hit me in waves over the coming days. It was all too much to deal with at once.

We spent the rest of the day quietly doing little odd tasks as they occurred to us. I finally printed out the picture of Maria and framed that too. Nothing was theoretical anymore.

In the next two days, relatives arrived and our house was deep-cleaned from top to bottom. A baby room materialized complete with a crib, mobile, changing table, rocking chair, and a closet full of hand-me-down baby clothes and toys – enough for the first two years and beyond. The crowning touches, though, were a gorgeous antique bassinet that my husband had lain in as a baby and a little blanket that had once wrapped up his father. I loved these treasures. My sister-in-law took us shopping for all the essential supplies (diapers, bottles, formula, etc.) A trip to our future pediatrician gave us the chance to ask a hundred questions and supplied us with a bagful of potentially necessary medications, creams, ointments, etc. In these trips, my husband and I realized how very little we knew about taking care of infants. In fact, our lack of knowledge was almost astounding considering the fact that, between us, we had 18 nieces and nephews.

When it came to traveling, we were much more experienced. We got our final vaccinations, picked up the tickets, exchanged money and called the official in Addis Ababa one more time to give him our travel information. He told us he was coming personally to pick us up at the airport. We would know him by his umbrella in the colors of the Ethiopian flag. We also arranged that we meet first thing Thursday morning to go to the orphanage. Mr. T informed me that the elusive Mrs. Herewego would also come along.

Somewhere during all of this, I went to the gardening store to buy soil and flowers. I came home and planted them over First Dog’s grave. It occurred to me at that very moment, that it was Monday afternoon. Our adoption had probably just been finalized. In three days, I would be holding Maria in my arms.

We were flying very early on Wednesday, so we arranged to stay at my In-laws house on Tuesday night and they would drive us to the airport. We packed everything into our car and started to make our farewells to Dog Two, Cat One. We thanked my friend C. for the 20th time for her dog- and house-sitting. The telephone rang.

I picked up and heard the familiar voice of Mr. T in Addis. I was confused because he had never called us before. It was always me who did the dialing. I was surprised that he even knew our number. I jubilantly told him how great his timing was – we were just about to walk out the door.

He asked me nervously if we could postpone our trip. The court session had not gone well. The judge had refused to finalize the adoption and thrown the case out.


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