March 2, 2011 was my 27th birthday. I went to an interview that day on the Upper West Side. I remember that it was cold but sunny as I walked from the 72nd Street subway to the school. I was eager to impress and showed up in my pencil skirt. An hour later, I left with a smile on my face and an invitation to return for a demo lesson. I stopped at Crumbs Bake Shop on my way back to the train and bought a hostess cupcake. I didn't know it then, but halfway around the globe you were making your entrance into this world.
A month after you were born, your father proposed to me. As you were first learning to coo and crawl, we were planning our wedding. You were 16 months old when we got married. In our vows we talked about the children we would one day adopt. Little did we know that our lives were already being woven together with yours.
In July of 2012 we traveled to Kenya and met Lulu, a quiet four-year-old who was living at the orphanage where we volunteered. She stole our hearts and took our breath away. We inquired about adopting her, but were unable to because of country requirements. Leaving her behind was heartbreaking. I can remember feeling angry and useless. I still think about Lulu all the time, and wonder how she's doing. I'm forever grateful to that little four-year-old, because she pointed our hearts towards you.
When we returned home, I ordered every international adoption book I could get my hands on. In March of 2013, as you were turning two, we began our home study process to adopt from Ethiopia. The next year and half were full of endless amounts of paperwork. We were so confused and anxious about everything, always questioning if we were making the right choices.
In March of 2014 your daddy and I went away for my birthday weekend. We talked about our adoption process, and admitted that we no longer felt pulled towards Ethiopia. We wondered if we were crazy for changing paths again, but our gut instincts told us to do it. All the while, you were celebrating your third birthday in South Africa.
On March 11, 2014 we submitted our application to Spence-Chapin's South Africa program. We were accepted on March 18, and were suddenly filled with a new sense of urgency. We rushed to fill out our home study paperwork (for the third time!), feeling that surely we must be getting closer to you. On August 4 we submitted our dossier, and 88 days later we heard your beautiful name for the first time.
I will never forget that day. Thursday, October 30, 2014. It was the day before Halloween. It had been cold and rainy for the past week, but as I drove to school that morning the sun was shining brightly. I sang along to "Shake It Out" by Florence & The Machine as I pulled into the parking lot. "It's always darkest before the dawn..."
I was teaching a writing lesson at 12:15 when I saw a missed call with a 212 number on my phone. I didn't recognize the number, so I went back to teaching. As my students started their writing, I quickly searched the number. My heart stopped when I saw it was Spence-Chapin. I listened to my voicemail, and heard a peppy message from our program assistant asking me to call her back as soon as I was able. I quickly told my students it was time for snack. They looked at me like I was crazy, since we had just come back from lunch, but they got their snacks out while I made the phone call.
I was shaking when our program assistant answered. "Hello?!" I whispered, trying to appear normal in front of my students. "Hi Jennifer! Hold on one second while I get Ben on the line..." she said. "Wait! I have students here!" I said loudly. Looking around, I realized that every eye in the room was on me. "Can I call you back at 1:40 when they're in gym?" I asked, trying to steady my voice. She agreed. Before I hung up I quickly clarified, "Wait, this is THE call, right?" Our program assistant laughed and said that yes, yes it was.
I hung up the phone and turned back to my students, who instantly shouted, "Congratulations!" I remember feeling shocked and excited and completely overwhelmed. In an effort to keep from bawling my eyes out, I spent the next half hour reading a story to them. My friend and colleague was watching from outside our classroom window, and knew something was up because I kept dropping my papers and shaking. I sent a student down to the office with a note asking for a sub to cover my afternoon. News traveled fast, and soon other teachers and even the principal came in to congratulate me. All the while my mind was still racing, as I didn't yet know anything about you. I sent your daddy this message before leaving school:
As I left school, I called our program assistant back again. We agreed that we should wait to talk until I was home. Before hanging up I quickly asked her, "Wait. Just tell me, is it one child or two?" My heart was beating out of my chest. "One," she said. "A three year old girl." As we hung up, tears started streaming down my face.
Once I got home, your daddy and I had our official "referral call." I will never forget hearing your name spoken aloud for the first time. I giggled. "Say it again!" I asked afterwards. Your daddy and I both practiced saying your name aloud, enjoying the way it rolled off our tongues for the first time. Your name is beautiful, just like you. It's impossible to say your name without smiling. At the end of our call, our program assistant promised to send us an email with your photos and referral information. We hung up, breathless and excited.
We sat for a minute, refreshing our inbox and waiting for the email to arrive. When it showed up, we eagerly clicked open the message and waited for your photo to load. I gasped. Your father put his hand to his mouth. I remember touching the computer screen, as if I could reach right through to you. Those cheeks. Those eyes. It seemed like you were looking right at us. "She's beautiful..." I said. I looked over at your daddy, who had one tear rolling gently down his cheek. We both knew. We spent the next thirty minutes reading through your paperwork, while trying to piece together the details of your life thus far. We combed over the dates, noticing all of the ways your life has overlapped with ours.
Everyone keeps asking if this all feels surreal. Strangely, it doesn't. Not at all. It actually feels completely normal, as if this was how it was always meant to be. Your name means "inner peace" in the Shangaan language. The night we got your referral, I slept like a baby, completely at peace. After years of searching and wondering and walking blindly, we finally found what we were looking for. It was you all along.
A lifetime of love awaits you, my baby girl.