Greetings from the Equator

This past week or so has been a whirlwind, to say the least. So much has happened, it’s nearly impossible to detail it all. But we’ve received so many unbelievably gracious and kind-hearted messages by email, facebook, twitter and ichat. And some actual phone calls, too. Wow. What an outpouring of sweet feeling – thank you!! The two biggest questions we’ve received – can you share an update & what is she like? The update: We arrived in Cuenca, Ecuador after about a 24-hour trip. Not that long to fly, actually, only about 11 hours or so – but with delays and a necessary overnight, it took a while. We were able to meet with Ana Elisa the next morning, and we spent the entire day with her at the orphanage. The best way I can describe our first day with her would be this: It felt more like a reunion than a meeting. The entire experience just felt natural, loving, joyous and so downright easy. She was shy and distant at first but then so sweet and soooo affectionate. And the first time I saw her laugh – oh my goodness. Oh My Goodness. Such a sweet sound coupled with such a beautiful expression on her face. The orphanage itself is well run, sparkling clean and neat, another example of doing the very best with what is available. And such kindness everywhere. Nearly unreal: how many people dedicate their entire lives to making this world a better place for others. Leaving her at the end of that first day was difficult, but it proved to be even more difficult than expected when we showed up the next day. It was a lot like the movie Groundhog Day. We had to start all over again. They told us she had been angry at us for leaving and didn’t believe them when they said we were coming back. She said that no, her family had just left her. So she would barely look at me after holding on so tight the day before. Luckily, though, we moved past that stage even sooner than I would have expected – and all went so well that second day that they actually sent her home with us at the end of it. That was quite a shock, as we were told in advance that it would be about a week of visits and then a formal approval process prior to an overnight visit. But we certainly weren’t complaining. Mostly, I was relieved to not have to go through the same thing every morning for a week. And we were all amazed that she would be with us completely for the rest of our time here. Unofficially for forever (Sophie kept double checking, needed to be sure) … but to be formally approved over the coming weeks (I still had to tell her, 99% sure for forever). Because of the rules, I am unable to show any photographs of Ana Elisa, which is a shame for a few reasons. 1. She’s adorable. 2. I’ve gotten some beautiful photographs and 3. She’s so adorable. But I did manage to grab a few image that do not compromise our process. One of my favorites: all three of our children on that first day, peeking into the baby room…

The other question – what is she like? The answer … well, we’re still finding out 🙂 But I can tell you this – she is so, so affectionate and she has decided that she is all about Mami for now. She tells total strangers, over and over: “Estes es mi mami” – this is MY mommy. She has become my little shadow. If I go to the door, she goes to the door. If I walk across the room, she walks across the room. She has also made it clear that being held is clearly better than not. So, in that respect, she has also become my blanket. As we have been walking much of Cuenca, I have been feeling her love in my lower back. But I am also feeling it strongly in my heart. So … it evens out 🙂 Her sister, brother and father have been enormously patient with this, and with her. The only real issue is that they are all dying to get at her – Sophie was literally hovering her hand over Ana Elisa’s head at breakfast, begging to please pet the cutest little sister in the world, while I asked her to please just give her sister just a bit more time to take it all in … hilarious and so sweet. Our children have surprised both of us wiith how great they have been with this. And we already knew how wonderful they were going into it. She does not seem to eat much, but we are told that they do not feed the children large meals at the orphanage. When she does choose to eat, though, it’s amusing & kinda heartbreaking to observe. She crooks her arm completely around the bowl or small plate and she presses it tightly against her chest. She also keeps a keen eye around her to make sure no one comes near her food. She remains like this until the last bite. And she eats precisely and slowly. Also, she only processes one product at a time. She is eating exactly this or she is finished and can now eat exactly that. After which, she can drink this or, possibly, exactly that. And she drinks with her spoon. Or, a new passion: her straw. There is also this about our child: When I hold her, she scrunches down a little so that she can put her head against my heart. When she sits on my lap at restaurants (my blanket), she constantly turns around to see my face. And she smiles. She reaches forward to touch my cheeks with both hands, and she even pulled me to her for a kiss yesterday. Un beso dulce. She has giggle fits that can go on for a while. She teaches me Spanish. (I am totally half fluent in Spanish already for the age 3 & under crowd, I swear!) She cleans up everything. A total neat freak. It’s awesome. She is completely potty trained, even waking in the middle of the night to go. She smiles shyly at her father. She thinks it’s hilarious when she’s dipped while dancing. She sings unabashedly, with the sweetest voice. She’s feeling a lot. That includes anger and sadness and confusion and a need to exert control. And we just stay with all that emotion until she’s spent. And there she is again … our daughter 🙂 Steve grabbed a couple really sweet images of me & her (thank you, Papi!), playing up against the fence at the orphanage… She’s just so wonderfully snuggly. I guess when she’s not hanging on to me, I’m hanging on to her.

With so much intense focus on this adoption, I haven’t had an opportunity to photograph Cuenca much yet. But I will because it is absolutely stunning. Walking around this gorgeous city in the clouds (nestled up high in the Andes Mountains), I’m trying to figure out how the heck I hadn’t heard of it before this experience. Every time you turn a corner, you see this beautiful architecture, these grand mountains rising up at the end of the streets. It’s a visual feast! I will certainly be posting more images soon. But, for now, here is the city at night from our hotel room, in the busiest part of downtown…

So much more to come. In every way. (and thanks, again, for all the sweet words. we are saving them in a book for her. . and collecting our imagery as we go 🙂

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