When filling out adoption paperwork, there was always one piece of paper that made me hesitate. The exclusion list. It was almost like the agency was asking us to choose sandwich fixings by checking a box next to certain criteria we were or were not willing to accept. Mobility? Delays? Special needs? We carefully weighed the options and decided that saying yes to all and seeing what happened was our best bet.
Only half kidding, I joked to my husband that I wished there were a box to check to guarantee we could get a good traveler (camping and road trips are how we usually vacation) and that there would be no need for orthodontia (our two Bigs both have full mouths of braces and we spend more time than I’d care to admit in that office!). I should have known better than to throw down that challenge, even in jest!
Our first test to my “travel request” came six weeks after our daughter “Minnie” came home. We had a week-long camping trip planned during spring break to the ocean, which would be a six-hour drive from home. We’ve road tripped lots in the past. Ten hours or more in the truck usually didn’t phase the other kids, who had grown accustomed to snack bags, activity bins and movies keeping them entertained as we traveled.
Armed with our usual slew of tricks and planning travel around nap time, we thought (and prayed!) this trip wouldn’t be any different. How wrong we were! Of the six hours of travel, a good five of it was spent listening to a very unhappy 2 year old cry, squirm, scream and throw whatever toy/trick/snack I could hand her. We chalked it up to new experiences for Minnie, chastised ourselves for planning something so close to transitioning her to our home, and figured that we would have to work her into longer trips.
The drive home wasn’t much better. There was perhaps less screaming and throwing of food, but what I remember most is that even though we carefully planned travel around Minnie needing to sleep, she never once rested while in the truck. This continued through the summer. Camping plans were put off and we stayed close to home, knowing longer trips were something we would enjoy again once our daughter was securely attached to our family. Her temperament softened in the car. She no longer screamed during car rides, but she still never settled in well enough to rest, let alone ever fall asleep.
It was frustrating. Having different drop off and pick up schedules for the big kids meant needing Minnie to rest in the car sometimes. And, if I’m being honest, some days require a lot of time spent in the car. I needed her to rest for my own sanity of having to answer a barrage of toddler questions coming at me in rapid-fire fashion. Why wouldn’t she sleep?
And then it hit me. Imagine each and every major change in your life occurring during a car ride. When a child is removed from his or her first home…there is a car ride to the children’s shelter. A new home and new family…a car ride takes them to that new place. Saying good bye to anything familiar and known…a car ride is the last thing that happens before a new life change begins. It’s no wonder our daughter can’t settle in the car. In her sweet little brain she is probably wondering what happens when the car door opens.
We recently visited family who live about three hours away. All the kids did great on the way down. While three of our kiddos nodded off from time to time, our youngest still didn’t give in to sleep. But she had come so far from the shoe and toy tossing of our first trip, that I celebrated that success. Going home the Bigs opted to stay with the family for an extra day, which meant I had the Littles by myself. We waited until after dinner to start home. With full bellies and cozy jammies, I figured if nothing else, Minnie would be comfortable, and hopefully we would have a peaceful ride. Both little ones did great. Nikko dozed, and naturally, Minnie didn’t. My hope for a peaceful ride was replaced with answering all.the.questions she could throw at me. The purple of dusk gave way to the darkness of night as her questions continued.
When the questions slowed, I watched in the rear view mirror as she looked out the window. I could still see her eyes open, but relished the bits of quiet. About 30 miles from home I heard a yawn. And another question. A yawn and another question. Our town approached and I knew Minnie recognized some of the landmarks. And then it happened.
Soft breathing. And silence. We were almost at the last exit before home and she fell asleep. For the first time in 6 months, she fell asleep in the car.
We pulled in the driveway and I unbuckled Nikko for him to sleepily walk to his bedroom. Minnie stayed asleep when I unbuckled her and she nestled into my neck, her dead-weight heavy in my arms. It was the feeling of trust.
Carrying a sleeping child had never felt so sweet.