Our dear girl, M, has been back in her home country for a month now. We miss her every single day and worry about her every hour. The violence in Ukraine is mostly in Kiev which is several hours from her city, but her dependence on a functioning government is total: food, heat, schooling, internet access all relies on the government being functional.
Somehow, in this time, she became our daughter. We think of her as our girl, off at school. We send her packages, chat with her on the computer, and worry about her upcoming math test or disagreements with a boy. She came to me late one night to share the death of one of her few extended family members and we grieved with her. Another afternoon she asked for advice about a boy. We each sign off with "I love you. You are my family."
And slowly, step by step, that is becoming a reality. We have requested to adopt her permanently into our family. God willing, M will be our real and legal daughter before next Christmas. She will be here forever--or for as fleeting of a "forever" as any of us get to keep our kids at home, really. She may live at home with us for only few more years--as teens tend to do--but she will be our forever daughter. We will still be her parents when she is 19 or 22 or 26 or 38 or 50. And so even if our time together in the same household may be cut a bit shorter than most kids get, she will have a forever family to come to on holidays, call to celebrate her new job, share the ups and downs of young adulthood. And we will be there to celebrate and console, perhaps walk her down an aisle, hold our (far-off but possibly eventual) grandbabies, and celebrate each milestone. At 36, I am still grateful everyday that I have my parents to talk to. They are there when I need advice, support, or just to share in our joys and heartaches.
And I'm grateful everyday for my siblings. Some of them--like my older brother and next youngest sister--lived through the daily squabbles of sibling-hood and have a million shared memories together. We're bonded through our histories. Some--like my two middle brothers--overlapped in time but were in such different ages and stages that our shared memories are from such different perspectives as to be nearly unrelated. And some of them--like my darling littlest sister who is 11.5 years younger--didn't have much sibling relationship at all as kids and very few really shared childhood memories. She was my pet until she was 4 or 5, and then I was off to college. But we are sisters and found that relationship anyhow.
So M may be coming in late, but she will have 3 little siblings who love her dearly and miss her daily. She will -- I hope--some day find that same sisterly support in Katie that I cherish in my sisters. And she will have little brothers to tease and torment and eventually confide in and advise and cherish, too. We can never re-create or fill in or fully know her childhood, but we do get to be part of her teens, young adulthood, and as much time together as we get on this planet.
And she will gain cousins. She'll have fellow teen cousins and lots of younger cousins. Cousins are great. They're mostly just friends who you get to see at all of life's big events, but when life is at its highest and lowest they are always there. And, if you're lucky, you find that you're friends with them all the time, too.
And aunts and uncles. Oh, will she have aunts and uncles! We're very hopeful to have her home for her first family wedding this fall. Aunts and uncles and cousins and all!
And so, yes, her relationships with these people--including us--will be different than if she'd been here since birth or infancy or toddlerhood or elementary school. She may love us more like someone else loves a very close aunt and uncle than parents. She may love her siblings in a way more like some people love their cousins. It may have a hint of distance and an unshared history that is hard to bridge. Or maybe not. And in the end, who is capable of measuring and defining how two different people love their parents as the same or different or more or less? Or measuring and defining the love we have for siblings or cousins or any family member? As long as there is love, it's family. And so she's our family and we are hers. In our hearts now. Legally, soon (we hope).
(Details about the technical steps and the fundraising efforts coming very soon.)