It's been nearly five weeks since we woke up in South Africa on January 15 and prepared to meet you for the first time. Never in my life have five weeks whirled by so quickly. Five weeks of giggles, snuggles, runny noses, bubble baths, and evening dance parties. Five weeks of firsts. Five weeks of learning about each other and growing as a family. It's hard to know where to start writing again, or even how to start to tell the story of our time in South Africa, but I know I need to. Today, I'm going to start with our first day meeting you, sweet Hula.
Your daddy and I woke up early that morning, still worn out from our sixteen hour flight the day before. As luck would have it, strep throat + laryngitis + a marathon day of travel left me completely without a voice. The whole morning felt very bizarre and unreal. I was popping natural cold remedies while chugging water and mouthing frantic, last-minute questions to your daddy. "Are you sure we have the camera? Will you make sure to ask her foster mom about her eating habits? Should we pack any snacks?" Bless his heart, your daddy stayed calm and steady and kept me from unraveling. To try to make up for my lack of voice, I chose to wear my happiest, most vibrant red & white polka dot dress. Standing in front of the mirror that morning, I couldn't help but wonder what you would think when you saw me. Did I look safe and kind? Would you want to come to me? Would you be ready to call me mama? I took a deep breath and a last look around our room before heading out the door, knowing that our lives were about to change forever.
Our social worker, Anna, picked us up at 10AM. I whispered hello to her, and gestured about my lost voice. She was polite and reassuring, and asked if we were ready to go. We gathered up the little backpack we had packed for you and climbed into the car. It was a sunny summer morning in Jo'burg, so I rolled down the window and breathed in some fresh air on the way, trying to calm my anxious heart. Fifteen minutes later, we were standing in front of the gate to your house. Your foster mom ("Mama Lizzie") came to greet us. We followed her inside. Then Mama Lizzie called your name.
I will never forget how you came running around the corner, wearing your skinny little jean leggings, pink and purple sneakers, and polka-dot t-shirt. You were teeny. You stopped dead in your tracks the moment you saw us, and retreated around the corner a bit, all the while staring at us with wide eyes. In that moment, my nerves left and my instincts kicked in. Your daddy sat back and let us share that moment, while he quietly took some photos from behind. I squatted down to your level, offered you a small smile, and showed you the backpack of toys we had brought just for you. You were hesitant, but silently inched a bit closer. I unpacked a stuffed kitty, a baby doll with a bottle, and some pink sunglasses. You put the glasses on right away. Next I pulled out a bunny popper. You watched curiously as I placed a ball into the bunny's mouth, squeezed it's tummy, and shot the ball across the room with a loud "pop!" That was the first time we saw your sweet little smile.
Next we asked to see your bedroom. You silently led us down the hallway, tugging at my dress with one hand while hauling your backpack behind you with the other. I sat down on your Hello Kitty bedspread and pulled you up onto my lap to take some pictures. We showed you the viewfinder on the camera and you giggled while looking through the photos we had taken. Then you led us to the bathroom to show us your toothbrush and to play peek-a-boo behind your glasses in the mirror. After that we danced with egg shakers in the hallway, placed presents on the beds of your foster siblings, and shared your first bag of jellybeans. In the process of all the excitement, I somehow managed to find a hoarse but audible voice.
At one point I followed you into the kitchen. Mama Lizzie lifted you onto the counter to show you how to feed your babydoll with the bottle. I walked over next to you, and you put your arms out to me to be held. Of course I scooped you right up. You laid your head on my shoulder, and let me rock you. Anna and Mama Lizzie started laughing and shaking their heads, as they watched you regress into "Baby Hula" in my arms. Over the next hour we all watched as you shuffled along behind me, grunting and cooing while grasping onto my dress or reaching your arms up to be held. It was pretty adorable. It was also clear that you were ready to be somebody's baby. You were ready to be our baby.
At the end of the visit, we didn't know yet whether or not you'd be ready to come with us. Anna explained that we had to leave, and asked if you wanted to stay or to come with us. You responded by getting up and packing your little backpack. Mama Lizzie quickly sorted out some of your clothes, your toothbrush, and a few other essentials. As she gathered your items, she started to tear up. Before leaving your bedroom, you ran back and grabbed a teddy bear off your bed. On the way out, I embraced Mama Lizzie and thanked her for loving you so well these past seven months. We both had tears streaming down our cheeks. Next I handed you over to her. Mama Lizzie hugged you tight, placed her forehead against yours, and whispered "I love you" while smoothing down your eyebrows. Soon after, we were in the car waving goodbye out the window. We knew we'd come back to visit before our trip was over, but the goodbye still felt raw and emotional.
After Anna brought us back to our guest house, we showed you our room. You giggled as you jumped on the bed, and learned for the first time how much fun it is to have your daddy toss you high up into the air. "More!" you laughed over and over. Then we put you in the ergo and walked up the hill for pizza. Before our food arrived we had fun pushing you on the swings and cheering for you as you went down the slide. We quickly learned that you love to be tickled, chased, and hugged tightly. We marveled at how brave and joyful you are.
After dinner we returned to our guesthouse and spent the rest of the afternoon stomping bubbles and dancing in the courtyard. You loved taking a bath, and spent nearly an hour washing yourself (and the entire bathtub!) with a tiny washcloth. Before getting out, I watched as you wrung out the washcloth and dried off each arm and leg one by one while climbing out. It was clear that this was a routine you knew very well. I wrapped you up in a big towel and held you in my arms in front of the big mirror in the hallway. You giggled while pointing to our reflection and saying "Mama and baby!" Next you took a bottle of milk in my arms, before we settled into bed with a stack of stories.
Finally, after all the books were read, I put on some music and started to rock you to sleep. You quietly began to cry, as the weight of all the changes seemed to settle in. I held you close and continued to rock you until you fell asleep in my arms. As I laid you down in bed and curled up behind you, I felt tears spilling down my cheeks as well. After years of dreaming and wondering about you, here you were, snoring lightly in my arms. I didn't sleep much that night, as I kept turning over to check on you and replaying the events of the day in my mind. And yet, sure enough, morning soon came - along with the realization that you had wet the bed. Clearly we still had a lot to learn about parenting!
But we were together, at last, and that was all that mattered.