On this day, two years ago, our family went to a court in Ukraine to make Cava our son. All of us were extremely nervous about going before a judge, as we had heard stories of how detailed, difficult, and personal the questions could be. All of us wanted desperately for Cava to become a part of our family, but this entire adoption hinged on his answer. We could offer him a home and a family and a new life, but if he told the judge, "No," that he didn't want to be adopted by us, then it would be over and we would have to leave heartbroken and without him.
But he didn't.
He said, "Yes." And that simple, three-lettered answer changed all of our lives.
Cava said that, more than anything, he wanted a family and to be in a family. Still, it is one thing to want something and it is something else to become part of a family. He had no idea of what this really entailed and, to some extent, we did not know what adopting a child into our family was truly going to be like. Adoption is living a life that is not about expectation, but about dealing with life on a day to day, often moment by moment basis. When we opened our home and heart to Cava, this meant accepting the vulnerability that comes with loving an adopted child and all of the hurts and pains that come along with it. And that first year was very bumpy, very emotional, and, ultimately, bonded our family more deeply together.
But with those hurts and sorrows also comes great joy. To see a child, whose eyes were once deadened and empty, become filled with life and delight is a miracle. To watch love begin to transform a child, so that they can not only learn to love his newly adopted family, but also, more importantly, themselves. To see themselves as not only loved, but lovable. It is to know that, while you weren't there for a lot of firsts, there are so many new firsts that you will experience with them. I will never forget that moment when Cava first arrived here in the States, got into our car to go home, and as we rode down the highway, he rolled down his window and yelled out, "I love America!" And he would. Of course, he would say many, many more times that he wanted to return to Ukraine long before he really ever got a love for the place he was now.
His second Christmas with us has just passed and the enthusiasm he has for all of it is infectious. He loves the lights and the sounds (I love how he sings along to Christmas carols even when he doesn't know all the words). He didn't have any of this before and all of it is new and filled with wonder for him. This Christmas, he began to learn about giving to others (through the shoe boxes of Operation Christmas Child). I love how, when we went to the Christmas program at our church, as the nativity story unfolded before him, he leaned over to me and whispered, "Papa, that's what you taught me about."
I love that his enthusiasm for getting new super hero pajamas can be the same as when we went to Walt Disney World. He is full of boundless enthusiasm and still thrills over spotting a bird. I notice that I have become more aware of birds and butterflies and squirrels because of him. He has taught me to appreciate the little things and to see even the smallest of victories as moments of pure celebration.
So many people speak of what a great job Danelle and I are doing, but I have to correct them and say, "No, if Cava hadn't wanted this, if he hadn't wanted to change, then we wouldn't have gotten to where we are now." Cava has a good heart and he is learning that, even when he makes bad choices, our love for him doesn't change. Our love for him doesn't fluctuate depending on his behavior and this is something that is as foreign to him as English first was. It is slowly sinking in, but, like all of it, this is a slow process.
Cava has widened our eyes. We are not just an American family. Part of our dynamic and our make-up is now Ukrainian. That country now has a hold on our hearts, just as the United States does. We pray for his native country daily. We have embraced its culture, its heritage, its food, and have tried to incorporate these things into our celebrations and traditions. We are now connected to two worlds.
Adoption is a special, sacrificial and selfless gift of love. It gives us a new awareness of God's love for us.
I just recently did our annual report for the Ukrainian Embassy. I was amazed, as I began to write about the last year, at just how far Cava really has come in such a short period of time. He has made such huge strides in so many areas and he really isn't the same child that arrived here two years ago on January 19th. God has done a great work in him, in us, and through him. So many people have embraced this little boy from Ukraine in a way none of us could have ever imagined.
Cava loves Spider-man and he was surprised when I told him that he was braver than any super-hero. I told him how brave he was to agree to leave everything he had ever known to come to a new country and be part of a family. I told him, "You may not be where you want to be, but you are not where you once were. You have come so far and I'm so proud of the boy you are. I only hope that I can become worthy to be the Papa you deserve."
Cava has been a gift.
Over Christmas, my father asked me, "Knowing what you know now, would you still do it?"
My answer was an emphatic, "YES!"
Adoption is not easy. It's about becoming a family and all of us relearning what the really means. It is getting past the pretty pictures of what a family looks like on a Facebook page to what a family really is: the nitty-gritty, daily struggles and moments that, while hard, are what create stronger bonds of attachment. It is about how tears often lead to breakthroughs. It is about how tears can also be full of so much love and joy for those moments when your adopted child has success. I will never forget how, when Cava received the Citizenship Award at school last year, the school cheered for him and, it was through their cheers, I saw how much others loved and rooted for him. Tears of joys streamed down my cheeks. It was one of the proudest moments of my life because I knew what it not only took him to get there, but what it took our whole family to reach that moment. And it was a moment of hope that there would be more such moments in all of our future. It showed me how much bigger adoption was than just our immediate family.
Cava is my son. I take great delight in telling others this. He is as part of me as Danelle or Benjamin.
He has come a long way in two years and he has a long way to go, but I am just thankful to God that He has chosen our family to be a part of this sweet, wonderful, miraculous boy's life.
What I love is not just how much Cava has changed, but how much he has changed us.
Selfie taken by Cava of he and Benjamin on the way to court (12/29/12).
Selfie Cava took of he and his brother two years later at home.