The best way I know to describe older child adoption or sibling group adoption, is that it’s like culture shock.
Let me explain. This is what it was like to move to India:
We planned and dreamed and worked so hard to get to this new country. And after a 24-hour trip in three different airplanes, we set our feet on the ground. I’ll never forget that first nighttime ride from the airport, the cool wind in my face, craning my neck to take in the streets and leafy trees and buildings. Everything. I was exhausted to my core from juggling two toddlers on the Longest Trip Of My Life, but I was full of wonder. We did it. This is our new home.
The four of us managed to sleep a few hours that first night, in our friends’ flat, and awoke to the blinding India sun the next morning. Jet-lag made us feel like we’d been hit by a truck. We took a shower in a floor-to-ceiling tiled bathroom with a shower head that, bewilderingly, soaked every inch of the tiny room. And then we tracked water across the guest room and got dressed and stepped outside in soggy flip-flops, cotton-brained and slack-jawed, into dust and trash and noise and cows and many, many people.
We’d studied about moving overseas and traveled to other countries; read books and taken classes and spent a month in New York City in an international neighborhood. I was prepared for the first stage of culture shock: The Honeymoon Stage.
Except, that it didn’t happen to us. For whatever reason — perhaps it was the country we chose, perhaps it was landing in that country with a three and a one-year-old — we bypassed the Honeymoon Stage and landed smack on our rears in Disintegration.
Reality didn’t so much creep in, as punch us in the face.
Now, please understand this. We chose to move to India — nobody twisted our arms. We wanted to be there. We knew it was the exact right thing.
And also, we were drowning.
Everything was different. Every possible sense was assaulted every minute of the day. There is no way for me to describe to you the smells, the sights, the dirt, the tastes, the crush of people, the noise. Oh, the noise.
But we made ourselves set one foot in front of the other and get out there. Every single day. With the help of friends, we moved into our flat. We bought furniture. We found the office to set up Internet, and a preschool for our three-year-old. We learned to pay in cash and shop for groceries (a process that involved not one but a handful of shops). We learned to hail auto rickshaw cabs. We hired a house helper and learned to navigate this strange new cultural relationship of having an employee in our home every day who didn’t speak a word of English. We learned to brush our teeth with bottled water, and to disinfect fruit and vegetables before we ate them. We took our kids to the playground. We ordered take-out.
I list things for you that took an unimaginable amount of time. Everything moves slower in this country. And nobody seemed as bothered by that as us foreigners.
Have you ever noticed this? When you’re in a season that’s difficult, time just slows right down too. And so the hours we waited for our internet company to come were actually twice as long as normal hours. Each day felt like a marathon.
And yet. Piece by piece, agonizingly long day by agonizingly long day, we began to find our bearings in a brand-new place.
Of course, at the time it didn’t exactly feel like it. It felt like struggle. It felt like one step forward, two steps back. It felt like being the stupid one, the one that didn’t know any of the rules or how to make friends. It felt like wanting to go home where life was familiar and comfortable, where we were known and respected. It felt like a whole lot of anger, gushing from someplace deep inside where we didn’t know it existed.
We put in the seconds and the minutes and the days and the hours, and fought hard not to give in to the thought that This will never get better.
And then eventually, without our hardly realizing it, it did get better. Although at the time it just felt like pointless hardship, all of those seconds and hours and days had been adding up to accomplish something, to get us somewhere.
Slowly we found some confidence and the right places to shop for meat. We could go on neighborhood walks and not worry constantly about getting lost. I could set out with my backpack and just round our street corner into the sea of humanity, and move along with them, enjoying the sounds and color and, well there was just so much life. We began to find things to love about our city, little things at first, but we clung to them fiercely, and added to their number. We made friends. We watched how our children saw everything in India as a great adventure, and we tried to be like them. We laughed more.
Friends, I wish I could give you fuller picture of our Independence Stage of culture shock, but as many of you know, we had to leave India suddenly after just a year and a half, due to my health. While the rest of me recovered and actually wanted to put down some roots in our new home, my body never did. And so we had to leave, when we’d only just begun. That was a whole other kind of shock, but it’s a story for a different time.
But after that first year, I tasted a sip of Settling In. The anger had eased. Our city began to feel a tiny bit like home.
And so, as I begin to reflect on our first year of adoption, this is the picture that comes quickest to mind. In fact, I thought many times over this past year, This, right here, feels exactly like culture shock.
It’s the head-spinning, earth-shifting, wonder-brimming, anger-gushing, bone-tired-exhausting, tears in bed at night, will-this-ever-get-better jolt. Except with adoption, I’d up the ante just a wee bit by adding, there’s-no-going-back. Ever.
I believe that my body and my mind and emotions experienced the trauma of adding two new strangers to our family, in the same visceral way as landing with a pile of suitcases in a completely foreign country for the first time and realizing on Day One that the honeymoon stage was the ride home from the airport.
But I’m hear to tell you today, at the end of our first year, that we’re okay! We’re emerging from the crazy. We find more things to love every day about this strange new country that is our family of six.
I’m so happy to be living here.