For weeks, Katie and Annie Rose have been anticipating our trip to Minneapolis for Great Grandma Ruthie's 95th birthday. The girls were particularly eager to play with their cousins - some that they have not seen in months, some in years, and still more that they have never even met.
The weekend did not disappoint. It was, as my mom described, a "big love-in." From the moment our plane landed, Katie and Annie Rose were encircled by affectionate, accepting relatives. It was a joy to behold.
When we adopted Katie, we brought her into a large extended family, and this weekend served as an affirmation of how much she belongs to the clan. She reminded me of a puppy, tumbling and romping with the rest of her litter.
On Friday, we went to the Minnesota Zoo with my sister Jenny, her husband, Stephen, and their two daughters, Sophie and Livie. Katie, who laments the fact that she is the only blonde in a sea of dark-haired family members, found a kindred spirit in cousin Sophie (also cursed with the fate of having gorgeous blonde hair instead of the frizzy brown hair most of us sport). They bonded over their mutual blondeness. My adult cousins Beth and Janie came to the zoo, too, and Katie threw herself into their arms as if they were old friends.
I barely saw Katie the whole weekend. She immediately switched tables at Grandma's party on Saturday morning, deeming Andrew, Annie Rose and me far less interesting than a table full of mostly older cousins. I kept wandering over to her table to check on her, to see if she needed help ordering her meal or going to the potty, and she shooed me away, blissfully playing with kids she hasn't seen in a very long time.
Katie was invited back to Janie's house for a play date with the younger cousins after the luncheon, and she begged to go without hesitation. I had forgotten to bring her special eye patch, which she needs to wear every day as part of her treatment for amblyopia.
I asked Janie and her husband Mark if they could fashion a patch out of Band-Aids and cotton for Katie to wear at their house. When I explained to Katie that she would have to wear her patch while she played with the other children, she nodded okay, much to my astonishment. Her instant acquiescence was testimony to how comfortable and accepted she felt with the family.
Usually, Katie protests and moans multiple times a day about her patch, and she loathes wearing it in front of other people, especially other kids. She is painfully self-conscious about looking different, and I was prepared for a battle when I told her she would need to get in some patch time during her play date. I was wrong.
We did not see her again until dinner that evening, when twenty of us met at Noodles for an impromptu dinner with a handful of the young cousins. Katie greeted Andrew and me with a quick hug before making the rounds in the restaurant, flitting from cousins Julia and Jenna (in town from Phoenix) to Sophie and Olivia (in town from Denver) to Marisse and Rafe (locals from Minneapolis).
True to form, Great Grandma Ruthie showed up at Noodles with six dozen homemade chocolate chip cookies, lest we go hungry in the middle of the restaurant. Not a single cookie was left by the time we finished dinner, which probably warmed our Jewish grandma's heart. A firecracker even at age 95, Grandma then chose to accompany us all to a nearby park, where we talked and watched the kids play until half-past bedtime.
On Sunday, we boarded an airplane for home, and Katie was grief-stricken. I expected this to happen, because adoptees often have a harder time with goodbyes than other people. Katie sobbed in despair about the fact that she wouldn't see her cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents and great grandmother for a long time.
Her assessment of the situation was accurate. I could not soothe her by saying that she would see everyone again soon. She won't. I don't know when we will next have an occasion to all be together. In fact, the last time we congregated with so many of her relatives at once was five years ago at Grandma's 90th birthday.
I can comfort Katie, however, with pictures from the weekend and with the knowledge that there are people scattered across the country that love her. I told her that I was sad, too. I don't get to see my sisters, parents and relatives as often as I would like. In fact, during the weekend in Minneapolis, I visited with several dear friends, one who I last saw five years ago and another who I last saw ten years ago.
Part of life is saying goodbye to people we love. The nice part is that we have those people in our lives. Every time we have a family event, I love to watch the way Katie interacts with everyone. Andrew and I may have signed the adoption papers, but every relative in the family has clearly adopted her too. She belongs, and there is no better feeling.