Sunday, February 3, 2013

Conleigh's Earthquake Homecoming

3 years ago today was a crazy crazy day.  It followed weeks of craziness, where I spent a lot of time on the phone trying to figure out what was going to happen with the kids at Kenson's orphanage who were in Port Au Prince where the bulk of Haiti's earthquake damage was, where pictures like this made you feel connected but very unsure and worried.
Image source

where CNN's coverage of the condition's at Kenson's former orphanage made you feel really helpless.

where I was trying to figure out what was going to happen with Conleigh's adoption as all of her adoption paperwork was supposedly at the Presidential Palace which now looked like this...
Image source

where I was trying to see what could be done to help Conleigh's orphanage which was in the mountains and away from the most severe destruction but that had been declared unsafe to live in. 

After all of this and lots of conflicting information, it seemed likely that Conleigh was going to be on a plane out of Haiti sometime during the week of February 1.  I knew from most of the families from Kenson's orphanage that once they landed, getting your child was a mess.  I also knew that Conleigh would technically be under the custody of Health and Human Services as she woud be considered a refugee, not my daughter.  So I really hoped to get to Florida before she landed to try to keep her from being placed in the physical custody of the state. 

The short version of the long story is we left Nebraska on a one way flight on Monday morning with no real idea of when she might arrive and no plan other than to stay at a missionary compound in Florida where we could stay indefinitely for an inexpensive rate.  We rented a car and drove about 3 hours to the compound but no sooner had we arrived then we got a call saying the kids were going to be a plane, arriving in Miami that night which was maybe 5 hours away to the south.  (We had just driven 3 hours north to get to the compound.)  So we packed up, got back in the car and headed south.  About an hour or so later, we got another call saying that the kids were not coming that night but probably tomorrow.  So we ate at McDonalds and drove to Kissemmee to spend the night which was about halfway to Miami.  The next morning we decided to sit tight in Kissemmee as there was still some confusion about where the kids might land and if they would really be coming.  We ran to the mall and while there, we received a call saying the kids were getting on the plane and would be flying into Miami that night.  Back to the car and back to hoping we go to the airport before the plane landed.  We got to the airport, saw the two other families from Conleigh's orphanage, and were ushered in to a special lounge of sorts for other families in the same predictament. 

And then we waited.  And waited.  Until finally we were told that the kids would all be taken to a local children's group home and that we would have to receive them there.  Since we had a rental car, we took another mom and her friend with us and we drove to the group home.  Where we waited.  And waited.  Where we were given a tour and told the children would spend the night there.  Where we were told we would not see them that night but to come back in the morning.  Where we were not given any answers to our specific request of "Our orphanage director is coming with our kids.  Will she be allowed to stay with the kids?" 

We headed to find a hotel and returned around 8 the next morning where we joined a room full of parents who were milling around waiting to receive their children.  The children were shuttled from the lodging facilities to the meeting area in small groups so that meant each family had to wait until their child's name was called and then they would met their child and complete the required paperwork that would transfer physical custody from the state to each parent.  We were in the first group.  To say the next few hours were sad would be an understatement.  Conleigh had arrived in Florida around 6 p.m. but did not actually arrive at the group home until closer to 2 a.m..  She had been bathed, taken out of her clothes, given a medical exam, and removed from the orphanage director and the two other children whom she knew and asked to sleep in a strange place with strange people.  She was scared.  She cried for I would say an hour straight, pointing at every doorway wanting to leave.  We shoed her pictures of us together, we brought a doll just for her, but she was overwhelmed.  We asked for the orphanage director to be located as Conleigh had not even seen her since the night before but she had gone to another part of the group home to meet with the other two children from her orphanage.  Eventually, we met back up with her and she talked with Conleigh in Creole and told her she was going to go with us and showed her all the pictures we had brought of our visits, her new brother, our home, etc..  Finally after about 2 hours of waiting, the paperwork was completed and we went back to the hotel to book our flights and get a night of rest before flying out. 

So crazy.  And for Conleigh, a completely crazy way to spend her third birthday.

C-17 military plane like the one Conleigh flew in on

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