Five-year Twinaversary

Sharla-6

Photo by Iesha Boitmann

Today marks the five-year anniversary of our “escape” from the island. The boys had just turned four and I had been living with them in the DR for three years. We were waiting for both the US and Haitian governments to finalize the paperwork for their adoption so we could live in the US. The earthquake expedited the process, though I doubt the word “expedite” has ever been used to describe something that took so long. We were in the US for three more years before the adoption was finalized – six years in total.

The day we left the DR for Haiti will likely go down as the craziest day of my life. If anything else happens to surpass it, I’ll be sure to let you know. A pilot from my parents’ church in Pennsylvania offered to come down to the DR, fly us to Port-au-Prince, wait for us to pick up finalized paperwork at the embassy, and take us on to Ft. Lauderdale. Unfortunately there’s nothing simple about flying into a country recently wrecked by an earthquake with kids who didn’t have international travel papers.  We were delayed by a customs official on a power-trip, but were finally able to make it out. (Jamie Lamb described this as the angriest she’s ever seen me, and I’m quite sure this was the angriest I’ve ever been.) We flew on to Port-au-Prince where customs officials took the opposite approach and waved us through without checking our paperwork.

We spent six hours at the US Embassy waiting for their paperwork. The papers had been ready for a few days, but you know…lunch breaks, island time, etc. Six hours and two cranky twins later, we emerged with the paperwork. It didn’t finalize the adoption, but it was enough to get the boys to the US as refugees on “humanitarian parole.” Armed guards escorted us to the plane and then…we took off. It’s not strange that an airplane takes off when it’s time to go, but the fact that it happened after the three most difficult years of my life with no end in sight made it seem like a miracle.

And so it was that we landed if Florida on February 10th, exactly one month after the earthquake hit Haiti and the DR. On the 11th we flew from Florida to Austin, making today our five-year twinaversary. It’s been a wonderfully complicated five years: overwhelming support of friends and community, good schools, Chick-fil-a (!), cochlear implant, and most importantly, the rodeo. If you don’t know, twins+horses=happiness.

5-yr twinaversary

Two Year Twinaversary

Tomorrow I’ll be getting on a plane to the DR, which is exactly two years from the date the twins and I (and Jamie Lamb!) made our escape from the DR, by way of Haiti.  It was, by far, the craziest day of my life.  After working on the adoption for three years and having no end in sight, there was an earthquake.  We felt it in the DR, but as you know, the real damage was done in Haiti.  For a month I worked on getting relief supplies and workers from the DR into Haiti, while simultaneously working on getting everything in order in case our adoption was expedited.  

I was living in the DR with the boys, so I needed to pack up our apartment, though there was no guarantee we’d get to go to the US.  However, once we did know, we’d only have a day or two to get there.  So I had to pack up the place and live on this precipice of either the greatest news ever, or the biggest delay possible.  It was, in a word, stressful.  

When I finally got the call that we could go to Haiti to pick up their travel papers, we had less than two days to get there.  Fortunately, a friend of the family was in the area doing relief work with his jet, and he offered to pick us up in the DR, take us to Port-au-Prince, wait for us to go to the Embassy, and then fly us to Florida.  Getting out of the DR was actually the biggest hurdle.  The boys’ travel papers were in Haiti, and a flight from the DR to Haiti is an international one, thus requiring passports and visas.  The head immigration official was on a power trip and was not willing to even look at the paperwork I had for the boys.  We had to get creative on a solution (legal? maybe), and suffice it to say, it worked, and we made it to Haiti.  After six hours in the embassy, we were escorted by the US military to our plane.  It was 100% crazy.

The transition back to the US was harder for me than the boys, but we survived and here we are.  The adoption is still not complete, and they still don’t have US citizenship, but it’s in process.  God is good.

A year in America.

A year ago this week we left the DR to move to Austin.  The boy’s first time in America.  The big move I had been waiting for and wishing for and dreaming about and doubting would ever happen.  

I got a call a year ago tonight from Barbara, the lady working on the adoption in Port au Prince.  She said the boys’ travel papers were ready and we needed to get there as soon as possible.

We were ready to go – had been waiting a few weeks.  Our apartment in Santiago, DR was packed for the move and our bags were packed for the trip.  It was by far the most stressful time of my life.  I had known that at any point we would be moving and our lives would be forever changed, but I also knew that there was a chance the adoption wouldn’t get expedited and I’d be “stuck” longer in the DR.  I was on the brink of either great news or really discouraging news and it was extremely difficult.  

I wish I could tell you that in that time I trusted in God so completely that I felt the peace that only He could give.  But the honest truth is I was struggling with having to go through yet another huge parenting season on my own.  I wanted to trust God’s plan, but I really felt like He was just leaving me to fend for myself.  I knew God wasn’t like that, but that’s how I felt and I couldn’t pull myself out or figure out how to let God pull me out.

So I got the call from Barbara and we firmed up our travel plans to Haiti and then on to Florida and the DR.  A friend of our family had his own plane and was doing earthquake relief work.  He had offered to fly us from the DR to Haiti and then on to Florida.  We set it all up for Wednesday, February 10th.  On Tuesday, I went to the Santiago airport to make sure they would allow us to fly with Haitians who didn’t have passports.  The boys had birth certificates, but we were flying from the DR to Haiti to get their travel papers.  I was assured that it wouldn’t be a problem for Haitians to fly to Haiti without passports.

When we arrived at the airport the next day, different customs officials were working, and the supervisor told me in no uncertain terms that the boys could not fly internationally without passports.  I explained the situation and he didn’t care. He was on a power trip and he wasn’t going to let us go.  

I was angry.  My friend Jamie was there and she later said, “I’ve never seen you that angry!” To which I replied, “I’ve never been that angry!”  After three years of working on the adoption and still having a long way to go when the earthquake hit, to having our papers be approved after the earthquake…then this guy at customs in the Dominican Republic is going to keep it all from happening??

So now you’re probably wondering what we did.  Because here we are in Austin, so we obviously got out.  The short version is, I knew a pilot who had been doing a lot of relief work from the DR to Haiti, and I called him to come help.  He was able to help in a huge way, and we were able to get on the plane and head to Haiti.  If you think I’m being cryptic, I am.  I can’t share everything on the interweb.

Photo courtesy of Holly Crim, who drove us to the airport.

So we got to Haiti, went to the US embassy, waited 5 hours, and finally got the paperwork we needed to leave with the boys (Jamie was traveling with me).  We had an armed escort to the plane, and then flew off to Ft Lauderdale.  I couldn’t believe it was actually happening.

We stayed overnight in Ft Lauderdale and then flew from Miami to Austin the next day.  The boys were champion travelers and got tons of attention because there were a lot of orphans leaving Haiti at that time and people figured they were among them.  We also stood in line at the Miami airport behind Sean Penn and Maria Bello.  One was nice the other was weird.  I’ll let you figure out which was which.

We got back to Austin to a group of friends welcoming us at the airport.  We were on the news.

And then it began.  Life in American with the twins. People kept asking me how I was doing and I really didn’t know.  It was surreal.  It was so glad to be here.  But I had just unexpectedly moved from one country to the next with two 4 year olds. I needed to find a house, a car, schools for the boys (Isaak is deaf, so he needed a deaf ed program), etc, etc.  I didn’t have time to process and think about this big life change that had occurred.  The boys did great, loved their new schools, loved being in Austin.  I was doing okay, but still hadn’t processed.  

For a while I thought that I would process the whole thing when things settled down.  But I never did and I wasn’t even sure what it would look like to “process” it all, so I didn’t know how to jump start it.  Then I decided that it was just happening gradually over time, that there wouldn’t be some big time of processing in which I cried and couldn’t believe we were actually in the US, and jounaled about it and blogged about it.  I figured I  had just transitioned without processing.

Until this week.  The one year anniversary of our arrival.  Yes friends, it’s happening.  I’m processing it.  I’m tearing up thinking of them and the opportunities they now have.  I’m realizing that God is teaching me now how to trust Him completely with my life and with theirs and that in that process, I find healing and restoration for the hurts and confusions of the past.

I leave for the DR on Friday, the one year anniversary of our arrival.  I didn’t plan it that way, but that’s how it’s turned out.  And thinking about that makes me process the whole thing even more.

God is teaching me so many things that I wanted to learn a year ago, two years ago, three years ago in my – dare I say – despair(!) of being a single mom and feeling completely overwhelmed and under supported and maybe even forgotten by God. No, I knew He didn’t forget me, but I felt like He had asked me to do this HUGE thing and then sort of left me to fend for myself.  I know that’s not right.  I know God is loving and kind and faithful and true, but I didn’t “feel” those things back then.  And now I do, and it’s bigger than just for this moment, it covers this whole time.  Four years of working towards an adoption that looked like it might never go through.  Four years of being a single mom to two rambunctious boys who really needed a daddy.  So this is me, processing.  

And this is us.

 

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We moved from the north coast to Santiago in February, 2009.  We got a new apartment, met new neighbors, and the boys started preschool.  There was still no end in sight for the adoption, and getting more settled in the DR brought mixed feelings. It was good to have our own place and brought more stability for us as a family.  But it was also a reminder that I had no idea when the adoption was going to be done, so I had to buy furniture, a vehicle, and everything in between.  We settled into life there and enjoyed being there, in spite of the big unknowns about if and when the adoption would be complete.

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Once I moved down to the DR to be a mom, the twins and I lived in the Makarios house in Puerto Plata.  They were 18 months old at the time, and we were there until they were 3 years old, at which point we got an apartment in Santiago.  I continued to work on the adoption and it continued to move along very slowly.  It was discouraging and a very difficult time for me personally.  I look back and see God’s faithfulness, but it was hard to see it at the time.  I felt very alone, even though I had plenty of people in my life who were supportive.  The problem was, not many of them lived neared us!  I was always worn out and despite having fun with the boys, it felt like the low times came more frequently than the highs.

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Once I decided to adopt the boys, I knew I needed to be in the DR more to be their mother.  At that point, I was still needed in Austin to keep Makarios afloat, so I split my time 50/50, Austin/DR.  We lived at the Mak house in Puerto Plata and a the Whites and a nanny helped when I was gone.  I kept up this schedule for about a year, working on the adoption, waiting for paperwork to go through, tracking down their bio dad to take care of more paperwork, etc.  The older the boys got, the more difficult it was on them for me to be away.  I did my best to be with them more and more.  Fortunately Makarios got a place financially where we could hire someone in Austin to do some of my work.  I continued working from the DR, doing a lot of work online.  I was grateful that God provided the funds and the personnel to make it happen, but it was a big strain on my work-wise to try to do my job from the DR.  So much of what I do is fundraising, networking, and recruiting.  Hard to do that by email, but I knew I needed to be a mom to the boys.