We almost didn’t make it to the airport in time.
After leaving our home at 6 a.m. and stopping for lunch to meet a sweet friend (a tradition now on our orphan hosting pick-up trips to and from Atlanta), we thought we had plenty of time to meander around Costco (Superhero 2, the superhero with the biggest heart, wanted to buy treats for the other host families) and grab some ice cream before we jumped on the highway and made our way to the airport.
Only the kids’ flight arrived 45 minutes early, and Atlanta traffic was NOT my friend. And I may or may not have used my nice words as I navigated stalled vehicles, crazy drivers and the 5.2 million people who did not have their white hearts on in traffic on this day.
As the boys and I arrived at the airport and parked in the first spot we came to (the one on the farthest side of Egypt), we grabbed Joy’s bags and gifts, leaped out of the car and dashed through terminal parking garages like mad homeless people with bags of everything they own strewn from their limbs, two pink balloons beating them as they ran. (I would like to say I compassionately grabbed hands and gently led children with songs and smiles to the place where they’d meet their host sister, but let’s just be honest — by this point, it was really every man and woman for himself. Take the balloon beating, kids. It will only make you stronger.)
By the time we found the Great Wall airport coordinator inside, we were one sweating, wind-blown, bag-beaten crew.
But we made it.
After exchanging hugs with three families I’ve known forever but haven’t seen in YEARS (how my heart just MELTS seeing these dear friends from various seasons of my life drink the Orphan Hosting Kool-Aid and dive into this amazing adventure feet first!) and making a few new friends (who I will surely Facebook message with crazy questions at all hours of the night — because that’s how host families roll), I checked the boys. Although the previously spiked hair had fallen and the clothes that were clean at 6 a.m. were now covered in fajita juice, all three boys were still in underwear, and all had at least washed their hands once in the previous 24 hours.
Victory, sir knight.
Our hosting group in our sea of Great Wall red waited (not-so-) patiently by the area where the terminal emptied out. Every time someone in a red shirt (a rarity at this time of year, you know) appeared, all of us held our breath and prayed that 10 little sets of feet would follow.
After nearly an hour, we still stood waiting.
That’s when the kids’ chaperone called our airport coordinator … and told her that their little group of nearly a dozen angels 12 and under, all with medical and special needs, several with Down syndrome and one in a wheelchair — all traveling from the international hub airport to this one with only ONE CHAPERONE — had mistakenly boarded the wrong shuttle and was now being transported to the airport entrance. (And then I bought this angel of a woman a permanent supply of unlimited coffee and offered to name my fourth child after her.)
And that’s where we saw THIS. <3
We waited exactly one second for someone to introduce us to this beauty in the pink jacket who, after 24 hours of no traveling and no sleep, was still waving and greeting this crazy group of crying, screaming strangers staring at her. And then, with the host chaperone busy, the boys and I just attacked.
“Ni hao! Wo jiao Ayi!” I said as cheerfully as I could in my very best Chinese (which should never be close to the word “best” in any sentence). This sweet 7-year-old angel immediately greeted me with a hug, and then, when the boys gave her her gift — a doll that the incredibly generous teachers at the boys’ school had purchased for her (one tear-inducing story about these special people to come later this month!) — she gave us a kiss.
We all fell in love that minute.
Especially Superhero 2.
This little boy, who is one month older than Joy, immediately made her his. He asked to hold her hand, carry her bag and then walked her as slowly as she needed through the airport (reminding me to “Mom, slow down! She has been traveling all day long!”) to the bathroom where we changed into PJs and prepared for the six-hour drive home.
Twenty minutes later, my sweet host friend from our same town and I had our eight children, two who didn’t speak English and had never before worn seatbelts, dressed, washed and ready for the drive.
Superhero 2 showed Joy to her car seat, and then he buckled her in. We gave her the blankie we purchased (please, give me an excuse to buy something PINK in this here boy house!), and before I ever even put the car in reverse, this sweet girl fell asleep.
She slept the whole six-hour drive home.
She snuggled into her bed and then into mine when she was scared in hers and slept until 6 a.m.
And she woke up yesterday with smiles and energy, ready for an adventure and completely open to every car ride, game and item of food we offered.
I was SHOCKED as she greeted each boy with hugs and kisses and jumped into the breakfast scene like a boss. She peeled her oranges and sat chatting with the boys, and even though there was a language barrier, she was so expressive in her hand motions and facial expressions that the boys and I could figure out every single thing she said! I didn’t even have to overcome my hatred for Google Translate to ask for a translation (and wait for this app to inevitably ask her for a gigolo, as it so kindly did when D.J. was here) — this sweet girl could communicate all her needs with her eyes and hands alone.
It was almost TOO easy.
All day LONG it was almost too easy.
This girl — this gem—she just EXEMPLIFIES her name. She is straight JOY.
She was JOY when she and Superman spent the morning playing kitchen and Chutes and Ladders on the floor — and she held him to the standards and didn’t let the baby CHEAT!
She was JOY when we took her to the older boys’ school for lunch, and she greeted new teachers and friends and strangers with smiles, waves and even sometimes a hug or kiss.
She was JOY when we took her out to our favorite Chinese restaurant for Superman’s Gotcha Day celebration dinner (yesterday marked three years with our smallest superhero!), and she ate every shrimp and noodle and dish we offered and then smiled and teased and played with the sweet family who joined us for this special day.
Her FRIENDLINESS, her KINDNESS, her AFFECTIONATE HEART and her SWEET disposition — they are all straight JOY. And although I don’t want to write too much about her personality until she’s been in our home and on our time zone for a few days, I can say without doubt that this girl IS joy.
Joy to the world! Our girl has come.
#changejoysstory #changetheorphanstory #christmasjoy