I don't even know how to begin. I have no idea how to start. How do you put into words the conclusion to a two and half year journey? It feels surreal. It feels fantastic. It feels Divine.
The last three days have been an absolute blur. We arrived in Arkhangelsk, Russia on Tuesday, June 12, 2012 around 11:30 in the morning and we were met by a new translator, Natalie. While she was new to this position, she was not new to international adoptions nor the processes involved and she proved to be, as all of our translators have been, an incredible blessing. We were hoping to see Daniel that afternoon, but we were told that since it was a Russian holiday, we would need to wait until the following morning before we could visit him in the baby home. So, we took some much needed rest and woke up on Wednesday refreshed and excited. When we arrived at the baby home, we were amazed that the four feet of snow and ice had vanished and was replaced by dandelions the size of a chid's fist. It would seem that with the 24 hours of daylight, every living creature takes advantage and grows exponentially. We were ushered into the same small room that we had met Daniel just under three months prior. Could it really be that it has only taken eleven weeks? We had assumed that March 23, 2012 marked the darkest day in our lives after that court hearing and now we see that a plan had unfolded. March 23rd changed the direction of our lives forever. And each year will mark the anniversary of that bitterest-sweetest days of our life. No sooner had we sat down than we heard the light patter of little feet. The door swung open, and in bounded Daniel. He did a jump stop by the toys before the caregiver could call his name. He turned around, reluctant to divert his attention from the toys, saw us and his face exploded with excitement. He flung his arms wide and ran head long into Brock's open arms. He remembered us!
We spent the rest of that meeting and the next rolling on the floor with him, making him laugh, kicking the ball back and forth, building "towers" and knocking them over with trucks and trains. All three of us were in paradise. The translator and social worker had discreetly stepped into the other office, but every so often we caught their faces peering around the corner, smiling or heard a happy chuckle in response to Daniel's boisterous belly-laugh. When the caregiver came to take him back to his room the first time, he backed up with his back against the wall, puffed his little chest out and vehmently shook his head from side to side. The gentle caregiver gave him a sweet smile and said, as translated by Natalie, "He is having too good of a time with you and does not wish to leave you." No sooner had she said that than he ran to the child-size couch, popped his thumb in his mouth and flopped face first into the cushion. He seemed placated when he was told we could walk with him and he grabbed my hand and we walked him back.
The next morning, we were scheduled to be picked up in front of the hotel with Natalie, the translator, Eager, the driver and Sergei from the Ministry of Education. Sergei was to observe our interactions with Daniel so that he could provide testimony in court. We had met Sergei on the previous trip and found him to be a jolly, jovial gentlemen. He very obviously has a passion for adoptions and working in the best interest of the children and once again we were recipients of unmerited favor from someone who had compassion on us. We hopped in the car and were met with the infectious grin of Sergei and the solemn eyes of Natalie. "Bad news today," in her Russian accent. "We were told, just this morning, that you will be required to complete the medicals. Sergei is trying to work his connections, but I do not know what this means. I do not understand why they cannot accept the medical referral from your American family doctor. Family doctors are just beginning to be popular here. But today, we must see eight doctors, and they must all be the head doctors. Do not worry. We are trying, but I do not yet know how they will do this. My fear is that they will reschedule court for Tuesday. I know about your flights and I know about your visas. Let us not worry, we will do our best. I am sorry we did not know this before now. You are the first family who has had this happen."
I looked at the white face of my husband and felt our journey spiral out of control once again. We had been required to complete our medicals in St. Petersburg last July and it had cost us $1600. And that was with appointments to the doctors, of which we had none now. We had spent our last rubbles on our lunch and we were concerned about finding the time to go to the bank to exchange more money. Our translator- self-proclaimed-miraculously had 5,000 rubbles with her (about $165) and we would go as far as we could with that since we were extremely pressed for time. Why again? We had already decided that we could not afford mentally, physically, emotionally or financially to be told anything but "yes" in court this trip. The last thing we wanted to do was walk away from this sweet little boy, but our emotions and our psyche were hanging on by a stretched thread. We could not walk through what we had just been through again. We would not delay another child from being put back into the database for another family while a judge vacillated. So one more day. One day more.
We could run the last leg of this race with everything we had left in us. One way or the other, it all would be over the very next day. We had no idea that we would literally be running a race. I had no idea that my decision to not wear socks with my Sketchers that morning would leave my feet swollen, blistered and bloody by the end of the day. From noon until 5, the day stretched like a blur. Unmarked buildings, needles, signatures, running on trodden down paths in fields of grass and dandelions that were literally two feet tall. Pressing on only knowing the next step as it came. We had eight doctors to see. Brock looked at me in a waiting room at one point with the look of utter defeat. "All it would take is one doctor not to be available and we've lost everything."
The first three stops were comical at best. We ran into the building for infectious diseases only to be told that we must pay before they would allow the chief doctor to see us. And to pay, we were to go to an ambigious building somewhere to the south of us. We spent precious, precious time chasing shadows and trying to find the right people in the right order. Sergei was with us, boldly leading and persuading with his charm and pull. He clicked through the halls with his briefcase, with Natalie following behind, me struggling to keep up and Brock somewhat despondently falling back. So many miles in the last two and a half years. So many times we rushed at break neck speed to complete something just under the deadline. We were pulling the last of our reserves, strenghenend only by the recent outstretched arms and infectious giggle of our sweet little Daniel. We were going to give it all we had. We met some very kind and understanding doctors. Some who were gruff and insensitive. One left me near tears on the table, staring up at the ceiling wondering how much more violated and vunerable I would have to be to complete this adoption. One more day. One day more.
By 5:00 PM, we had met with every doctor except the pulmanologist and radiologist. Sergei had procurred appointment with them at 9:00 in the morning as soon as their doors were open. One hour before our court proceedings. We were so close and so far away. One hiccup and it would crash around us. I couldn't sleep when we finally made it back to the hotel. My legs ached, my feet throbbed and my mind tumbled with every possible ridiculous question that I thought the judge would ask. I dreamed that the judge from Murmansk flew down to oversee the hearing in Arkhangelsk. By morning, I was exhausted. (and grateful that it was not the cardiologist that we were slated to see!) For all the stress, our appointment was blessedly uneventful. Every single doctor had made him or herself available. Our favorite was the pyschologist who spoke with a hearty, "Vellcome...Pleese, sit dowuhn" with a delightful grin that stretched ear to ear. We complimented her English and asked if she spoke more phrases. "Veery littl-uh. I'mmmm HUNGry...Dis is bedy expensuve." Each remark was accentuated with exaggerated hand gestures and animated facial expressions. After she completed her process, she bid us farewell with a, "Guud bye-uh and guud luck." And it just so happened that she was as delighted with our attempts at Russian conversations as we were with her English. What a blessing! By the way, the cost of all the medical evaluations? Let's just say that Natalie's 5,000 rubbles (paid back in full, of course) covered every single fee we incurred. God's provision once again proved sufficient. He is so good.
Our court hearing was in a much smaller and more comfortable room. Our judge, the honorable Andrei was a serious looking man with very thoughtful questions. My heart was racing and my breathing became sporadic when he asked the social worker about Daniel's biological mother. Natalie managed to, quite smoothly I might add, interject "don't worry-it's normal" in her translation without missing a single beat. I stole a quick glance at her face, and her professinalism never wavered. While my speech was written out explicitly (as we could use notes) Brock went first and then the judge proceeded to ask questions that covered every single topic of my speech. I took a deep breath, and did what I am not gifted at doing at all, and I "winged it". We were asked questions and then the others in the room gave their testimony. Sergei had said in our meeting the night before that we seemed like a funny couple and we would make very good parents and he was jealous that Daniel was going to be our son. We offered to adopt him. Svetlana, the social worker, announced that while she had been present for the meetings, she found that we were all three very comfortable and could communicate effectively enough that she wasn't needed for much assistance. She also, very diplomatically, pointed out that while he was very comfortable with both of us, he seemed especially taken with Brock. He seemed to enjoy sitting on my lap and playing with me, but he was thrilled when he could wallow all over Brock. It was also evident as our last meeting with him before that, he had been instructed to bid a "Paca Paca" (bye bye) to us and he ran for Brock, threw his little arms around his neck and then ran right by me while turning his little shoulder down. (But not to worry, I got more than my fair share of hugs and lovin's, as Svetlana announced)
After about an hour and a half in court, it was time for closing remarks. The Prosecutor, a round face woman with smiling blue eyes, told the judge that she saw that we were financially and physically able to provide for the child and that she believed it was in the child's best interest to grant our petition to adopt. When she said our names, she stumbled briefly on my Lara Ashley Williams and I caught her eye and nodded that she had gotten it close enough. She smiled and winked at me. Judge Andrei retired to his chambers while he deliberated. Svetlana and Natalie both said that our speeches were wonderful and that Svetlana had never seen the judge crack a smile in the court proceedings until Brock. That's my hubby! He came out a short time later and, after reading four or five pages of official documents, we heard the heart-stopping, long-awaited, "the court has decided to grant the petition to adopt Averin Daniil Sergeevich by Brock Wayne Williams and Lara Ashley Williams." It was finished. Well, somewhat...We will now wait for the 30 day waiting period and come back to pick up our son, finish the necessary paperwork and bring Daniel Wayne Williams to his forever home in July. Brock and I wish to remind everyone that we are so incredibly grateful for all your prayers and support! Please remember too, that when we first come home, we are going to "batten down the hatches" for a short time and let him get used to us and us get used to being parents. We absolutely cannot wait to introduce him to the world, but we need to introduce him to a whole new world in our family first. Please be patient with us during this transistion time...
Our final visit with Daniel this trip had an entirely different flavor. For the first time in this entire process, I looked our son in the eyes, pointed to his chest and said "Daniel." Then I pointed to my chest and said, "Mamma" Brock, gently picked him up in his arms, and with a choked voice, pointed to Daniel's chest and said, "Daniel." Then, with his hand over his heart and with the most tender look on his face, "Daddy. I am your Daddy." I believe that Daniel knew. When we left him, we took turns carrying him down the hall and when he reached his room, he whimpered. "Paca, Paca Daniel" Natalie looked at us with her huge, soulful blue eyes and said, "He is sad because he knows he won't see you for a while. But he nods when they ask if he understands that you will come back." We are coming back, Daniel. The minute they let us, we are coming to take you to your forever home. We will tell you of the miracle of your story. We will tell you about Irina, Margie, Andrei, Natasha, Sasha, Roman the driver, Tatiana Red and Tatina White, Denis, Sergei the driver, Sergei the apartment owner, Irina the social worker, Nina, Nasta, Natalie, Eager, Sergei at the Ministry of Education, Svetlana, your caregivers and of course, your brother Roman. He led us to you. I am so glad you are our son.
I want to interject here briefly and say that every single person we have dealt with in Buckner has done an exceptional job. They have cried with us, they have aided us in ways that we never would imagined. Brock had asked Natalie, in a choked voice if she knew our story and knew why another potential delay was so hard for us. She teared up and said she was aware and she couldn't imagine. These people have cried tears for us. They have cried tears for the children who deserve so much more. I must also say that almost everything about our Arkhangelsk experience has been relatively easy. If it weren't for the fact that our scars are only two months old and still healing, we would have had as close to the ideal experience as we coud have had. We know that we are richly blessed in friends, family, supporters, helpers. As I was sitting in the court room this morning, I started mentally listing all of the people who would rejoice with us. All these people put our family together. Finanically, prayerfully and with just good old-fashioned hard-and I know it's stressfully difficult sometimes!-work! Who are we that we should be the recipients of such favor? Daniel, God indeed "blessed the broken road that led [us] straight to you." And you will hear every single day for the rest of your life that you being our son is our miracle.