After ten-year-old Jolanta’s first three strokes with a paintbrush (see previous article) after nearly a year of non-engagement, she slowly began to engage a little in life. It didn’t happen all at once but was one tentative step at a time.
During that year, I was teaching early morning seminary at 6:00 AM every day. By the time I rushed home by 7:00, got breakfast on the table and seven kids out the door by 7:30 each morning, I honestly often felt the day was a success if they each had on their own matching pair of shoes! To have all their homework and needed forms, permission slips, clean gym clothes, etc., was definitely a bonus!
One morning as the dust was settling after the kids had all rushed out for their carpools, school buses, etc., I noticed a carefully folded piece of notebook paper sitting near the stove. Figuring that one of the kids might have left a piece of their homework at home, or thinking it was possibly a permission slip for me to sign for a field trip, I unfolded it.
I was stunned at the message. It read simply:
Dear Mama, I love you. Do you love me? Jolanta
This was epochal! There had never been any intimation that Jolanta was interested in or aware of any emotional attachment to anyone, other than to her brother, Thomas. There was also a sting to the thought that Jolanta could possibly not think I loved her. What?? Tears sprang to my eyes.
I practically ran to my office, where I pulled out colored paper, markers, scissors, and pens, piling them up on the desk. By robbing my daughter Amber’s scrapbook box, I even came up with some lace. I proceeded to make a handful of Valentines. “Dear Jolanta, I love you more than ________. “ I came up with half a dozen silly comparisons. It should have been a joyful experience, but I cried through the entire exercise.
I was overwhelmed by the need expressed in her simple note. I cried for her longing. I cried for my own failure to have communicated the most important message of all during the seemingly endless hours I had been caring for her. I honestly thought I had been communicating it. I thought I had told her I loved her over and over. But apparently, she had to write me a note to confirm this all-important question. Honestly, what kind of a mom needed to have her child write a note to ASK mom if she was loved?!
A couple of hours later I emerged from my office with my hands full of valentines, which I carefully carried to her room. I laid them out over her bed, took one last look, then closed the door.
I could hardly wait for Jolanta’s bus to come home that day. As always, I met the handicap bus at the bottom of our driveway. As I helped her up the driveway in her wheelchair, I was nearly busting to tell her to go to her room, but I managed to maintain my nonchalant composure. Once inside the house, she ate a snack and then finally wheeled into her bedroom. There was silence for the longest time. When she emerged from her room a few minutes later, she was expressionless. But it didn’t matter. I knew she had gotten the message!
Several months later, at the end of the schoolyear, I got another whopping surprise. Coming home from school, Jolanta proudly produced a note from her teacher requesting me to be at the next PTA where the winners of the writing competition would be reading their winning pieces. Jolanta was to be one of the featured winners. She was beaming!
Seriously?? She had written an essay—a winning essay? This seemed impossible. At that point I had the feeling that I was almost the only person she would communicate with. She still never brought home a school paper. Still never mentioned anything they were studying. My last meeting with her teacher had merely confirmed that she still was not engaged. So, this was a real surprise!
I wouldn’t have missed that night for anything in the world. My husband, John, and I were there, with great expectation. The suspense was incredible. I could literally feel my heart pounding as Jolanta took the microphone. Was she actually going to speak and read her paper out loud? It seemed impossible. But then she started by reading the title of her essay in a quiet, timid voice.
“The Happiest Day of My Life” With a title like that, I couldn’t imagine what would follow. Her paper then designated the day she flew from Poland to America and her new home, as the happiest day of her life. John and I looked at each other in absolute astonishment! I need to recount that day for you:
We had spent the night before in Warsaw, Poland, after getting Jolanta’s and Thomas’s visas to the U.S. from the U.S. embassy there. I mentioned in an earlier article that while in Warsaw, Jolanta had picked up a virulent case of diarrhea. The morning of our flight, after cleaning Jolanta and the bedroom up after another messy accident with the sickness, we rushed to the airport just in time to catch our plane to Frankfurt. On that trip, Jolanta had another serious bout of diarrhea as the plane was landing.
We had a real problem on this trip in that before leaving Lithuania we were not able to find any pampers for older children. (Jolanta was 9 years old) The best we could do was to tape several baby pampers together and hope for the best. It frankly was not very effective. Each time Jolanta had another BM, she had poop running everywhere. This time there was no time for another clean up. We had to deplane to catch a bus that would take us to the terminal.
Not wanting to get her wheelchair messy, I carried her to the bus, but by now poop was running down her legs. Once in the bus, everyone cleared away from us (was it the smell?). I sat on a bus seat with Jolanta seated on my lap, and with a sick feeling in my stomach realized that poop was now running down both of my legs. How embarrassing! The other passengers in the bus shot us angry and disgusted looks. It was humiliating!
Once in the terminal, I carried her to a mothers’ bathroom, with the embarrassment of knowing that I was leaving a trail of poop down the concourse. Once in the bathroom, Yurate (our translator and helper) and I pulled off her pants, her shoes and socks and her shirt (getting poop in her hair). We washed everything out in the sink, including her hair, then put the sopping wet clothes back on her. When we tried to wash her hair, because of her fear of water, Jolanta screamed and flailed her arms.
During this exercise, Thomas was wailing and kicking the door. I’m sure people wondered what in the world we were doing in there! I could hear the loudspeaker announcing that our flight was ready to close the doors. We frantically ran to our gate, with me carrying nine-year-old Jolanta in my arms, with Thomas hanging onto my back pocket and crying. I’m sure we were quite a sight!
Entering the business section of our Delta flight, I breathed a sigh of relief. Surely things would get better, but I quickly realized that Thomas was sitting on a different row from us. He was sitting next to a window. I left him there and thought I’d get Jolanta settled (she was pretty heavy, and I was nearing my physical limit.) I buckled Jolanta into her seat then went back to retrieve Thomas. A large man was sitting next to him. Thomas had turned his face to the window and was sobbing. Given his history of frequent abandonment, this was understandable. I asked the man if he would mind if the person sitting next to us could trade seats with Thomas. He was more than agreeable!
So, Thomas, Jolanta, Yurate and I were all sitting together. Whew! What could go wrong? It turns out, plenty! No sooner did the flight take off than Jolanta had another case of diarrhea. People quickly passed their napkins to us, trying to be helpful, but truthfully, we needed much more than that! Once the seatbelt light went off, I was able to carry Jolanta to the bathroom to try to clean her up. Yurate came with me. Once again, we left a trail on the floor. You can imagine the looks we got!
We squeezed into the tiny space. I stood on the toilet trying to hold Jolanta off the floor, while Yurate tried to undress her. Once again, Jolanta’s hair got messy as Yurate pulled off her shirt. Then we tried to wash Jolanta’s clothes and hair in that teeny, tiny little airplane sink! We were bumping all four walls. It must have sounded like a catfight! Jolanta, of course, was screaming because of her fear of water. My arms were shaking from trying to hold Jolanta up high enough for Yurate, crouching below, to get her cleaned off.
When we finally exited the bathroom, every eye in the business class section was on us! The flight attendants had just served the lunch. No sooner had we gotten back to our seats then Jolanta had another BM. Several people passed us their linen table covers and napkins, trying to be helpful. This whole scene was repeated twice again during the seven- hour flight.
I had some little soluble homeopathic tablets for diarrhea, which I was feeding Jolanta—one after another. They finally took effect. A couple of hours passed peacefully. Thinking we had weathered the worse, I was suddenly surprised to feel a wet sensation running down my leg and realized that Jolanta had just peed, but with the makeshift pampers, we now had pee running down the aisles. But this time the other passengers were prepared! No one would give their napkins back to the flight attendants after lunch, or after the evening snack. They were all saving them, just in case they would be needed!
Once again, passengers passed their napkins to me. I sopped up the wetness. By now I had quite a stack of dirty napkins in the aisle next to our seats. The seatbelt light came on signaling the beginning of our downward descent. It crossed my mind that I had not seen my husband for nearly a month. I knew that I must smell terrible by now, so in spite of the seatbelt sign, I took myself to the bathroom, stripped down, and washed my own clothes out in the tiny airplane bathroom sink, in the end putting back my clingy, cold wet clothes on. But at least I was clean—well, reasonably clean!
Thank heavens it was almost over! Yurate and I both let out a sigh of relief. As the plane descended and prepared to land, I turned to Jolanta and said, “Darling, we’re almost home. You’re going to get to see your daddy again. I know he’s so excited to see you!” She looked at me with a strange expression on her face, then without warning, opened her mouth and vomited all over me and the seat! Once again, everyone passed their remaining napkins down the rows to us!
The good news is that by the time we got to the immigration center for new citizens, even though the room was packed, we smelled so bad, that everyone cleared out so that we could be processed. Finally, we were able to walk down the hallway, through all the checkpoints and into the arms of my waiting husband.
I had oft referred to that airplane trip as the “Trip from Hades” and had joked to John that he would likely never be able to book another business class trip on Delta airlines, as they surely had our names redlined!
But now, here I was a year later, listening to Jolanta read her winning essay, “The Best Day of My Life.” She was talking about that same day! But her essay talked about how wonderful it was to have loving parents, brothers and sisters and a safe place to live. There was not a single mention of diarrhea, or defecation accidents or vomiting.
I would probably have listed that day as one of the worst of my life. But Jolanta was the one who had the true “eyes to see.” She saw how transforming that day would come to be in the lives of her and her brother. All the other stuff was just details.
I have to wonder that sometimes when we’re in the thick of a trial, we get clouded vision. We think of our trial as the “trial from Hades”. Yet, God in His all-knowingness sees our trials as important and necessary steps in our eternal progression. He sees our experiences for their eternal worth. I guess it’s all in how we choose to see.
In this case, Jolanta’s the one who got it right. It turns out that that day was one of the happiest days of my life as well! John and I were able to bring two beautiful children into our family. I just somehow let all the details obscure how wonderful and miraculous that day really was!
Coming to America truly was the best day of our lives! After all the abandonment and abuse shown by our mother and by Laura, and then being put in an orphanage for several years and just feeling unwanted, we were so excited to find out that we were going to be adopted. Just like I had dreamed it would happen, one day, someone who worked at the orphanage approached us and told us that there was a family that wanted to adopt us and that they were on their way to come and meet us. I couldn’t believe that our day had finally come! Even though it was overwhelming to meet our future parents because we didn’t know enough English to communicate with them, I remember feeling so thrilled and happy. But I was also very nervous and scared because it was going to take a lot of time to adjust to a completely different life in a new country where we couldn’t even speak the language.
I remember that flight coming to the U.S. and to this day, it’s one of the most embarrassing days of my life. I remember feeling so humiliated having everyone on that plane witness the horror of me spewing my guts out from both ends. I’m sure they all thought that I was the girl from The Exorcist! Like I must’ve been possessed or something. My nerves probably made the sickness even worse than it was.
There was so much anxiety going on in my mind. As excited and happy as I was to finally get a family, I really wasn’t sure how it was going to go for us. What if we do something wrong and they won’t want us anymore? Will they love us? All we had known by that point is that nobody seemed to want us, not even our own mother. People would just give up on us and we simply thought that we were bad or that there was something wrong with us.
The people at the orphanage took care of us because they had to, but I don’t ever remember any of them showing any kind of love and affection toward us. We just didn’t want to be a disappointment to our new family. There was a lot of fear about that for the longest time.
The first couple of years were hard to adjust. Because I was mute and wouldn’t do anything for myself, my adopted Mom had to do everything for me. I was still getting accidents, which I couldn’t control and almost every time that my adopted Mom was taking care of me, I was sure she must be frustrated with me. For good reason! But it made me feel bad a lot of the time because I felt like a burden to her.
My English wasn’t that great at the time, but I was also just not ready or comfortable to speak yet, so I had the idea to write notes. It somehow felt safer to write my feelings out instead of verbally expressing them. I wrote notes to my Mom several times because I wanted to know that she loved me even though she had to do a lot to take care of me.
Over time, I started to speak and started to do things for myself. Eventually, I got over my fears and realized that we were not a disappointment to our family and that we couldn’t be more loved. It turned out that coming to America was not only the best day our life but being in America was the best life that we could ever have!