Zac and I woke up in Kazakhstan for the first time, not so fresh from umpteen hours of air travel, a couple of hours of fitful sleep in a hotel room above a beauty salon, and looking ahead toward yet another flight from Almaty to Kokshetau. My head was buzzing and my throat felt like I’d spent a weekend in an isolation chamber with forty chain smokers. And there was only about a half inch of water left in our last water bottle.
Well, we drank tap water and survived, and after that, almost four hours in an ancient Soviet-era puddle jumper was not that big a deal. And after we’d trekked across a frigid, windy tarmac carrying our roughly 200 lbs of luggage, we met brisk, capable, wonderful Marina, our interpreter extraordinaire and a welcome sight for our exhausted, dazed selves. She took us to unload our luggage, to meet with our local adoption facilitator, and then to interview with a Ministry of Education representative who was probably a very nice man but intimidated me so much that I almost cried. After that, we were packed into the little Volvo with Marina, our facilitator, and driver for an hour and a half long drive through the pitch dark frozen tundra to the city of Schuchinsk, Zac and I trying vainly to stay awake and make small talk until the car finally pulled through a back alley to a locked gate to wait … and wait … and wait until somebody came to open the gate.
We teetered our way into a dark, quiet building and waited some more in a small lobby area. And then around the corner came several women carrying a tiny creature with the kind of face that inspired Byron. She was dressed in a pink flannel shirt that had little flowers embroidered on the placket and a pair of oversized red fleece pants that had been hiked up to her armpits. She looked like a gorgeous pink and red dumpling, though now I suspect that she probably had on two undershirts, three pairs of tights, a couple of sweaters and a snowsuit underneath that outfit. She was all rosy cheeks and rosebud mouth, and her eyes were so big and dark and round that they were practically square. And in spite of being awakened and abruptly surrounded by a gaggle of adults all looking at her with urgent expectation in their eyes that she couldn’t possibly fathom, she didn’t cry. She just stared and stared.
In our confusion, Zac and I hadn’t thought to bring one or two toys from the suitcase full of baby amusements and supplies we’d trucked halfway around the world to comfort her during this first, strange meeting. We’re lucky that she didn’t climb off that sofa and crawl away from us right then and there. Instead, she sat next to me, even let me hold her on my lap while the baby house staff made encouraging noises about “mama” and “papa”, and she gamely accepted a film canister hurriedly filled with coins to hold. When Zac briefly stepped behind me to rummage through a backpack, she leaned forward with great deliberation, never taking her eyes off this strange man that she instinctively knew should be monitored at all times. Our girl was smart as well as beautiful.
A lot has happened since that day. Chloe gets more adorable all the time if that's possible. Bright, funny, active, and mischievous, she’s turned our world upside down. Parenthood is more than it’s cracked up to be, it’s the most miraculous, wonderful, challenging, humbling, and rewarding thing that we’ve ever experienced. Eleven months ago, we asked a Kazakhstani judge to approve our request to adopt Chloe Madina. I told her that it would be our privilege to be given the chance to love and raise her and it is more so every day. I’ve never considered myself a lucky person, but every time I look into my daughter’s big, bright eyes, I’m so grateful for my great good fortune.