We barely slept the night before meeting John. I was up even more than Faith was, racking up a total of 3.5 hours of sleep that night. I slept from 9PM-12:30AM, and that was pretty much it. The rest of the night was filled with journaling, prayer, reading Scripture, studying up on my Ilocano (what litle I know), and watching TV. Faith did a little better than me (scoring 6 hours of sleep), but we were both running pretty much on adrenaline by the time we got to breakfast.
We showered (I hated that shower) and packed early, so we could have breakfast, check out of the hotel, and have nothing else to do but wait for John after breakfast. We were meeting Jackie at 8AM for breakfast, and the van from the orphanage was supposed to be there about 9:30AM to retrieve us. We had so much leftover time pre-breakfast, that I got an hour’s quiet time in the restaurant before Jackie met us. As is often her custom, Faith met with God out in nature – which meant the pool area, since there was no leaving the hotel (compound) for us foreigners by ourselves.
Jackie had told us that John had woken up early the previous morning talking about how his parents were coming tomorrow. We spent a lot of time wondering how that morning was for him. Was he anxious? nervous? scared? still excited? all of the above? We were. I had long imagined (and prepared myself emotionally) that his initial reaction to us might be pretty bad. Having heard Jackie talk about how excited John was, it was tempting to let my guard down there, but I was trying to maintain a very realistic perspective.
We had the exact same breakfast as the day before: Longanisa, rice, eggs, fruit, and juice. Jackie talked to the orphanage right after breakfast to confirm schedule, etc, and they confirmed that John was indeed going to come with them to pick us up and that he was excited. That’s when the minutes started to drag. We checked out, piled our bags at the door, sat in the lobby and waited. I couldn’t help but fidget with the two matchbox cars I had in my pocket, ready to engage him with toys if he was nervous or scared when we met him.
When the van finally arrived (like a half hour late), it was just Sadiri, who was John’s house father and official orphanage driver. No John-John. I was immediately disappointed, including because now I had to spend yet another 35-40 minutes (the time it takes to get from Laoag to the orphanage) in anxious waiting before I met John. But just a few seconds later, John and Mary Jane (his social worker at the orphanage) walked up the hotel sidewalk to the door. It was weird that he arrived not in the van (were they trying to surprise us?), but we were really glad to see them. This was the moment we had prayed and waited and prepared for for years.
He immediately demonstrated fear. He clung to Mary Jane and wanted very little to do with us. After shaking hands with the adults, I immediately squatted down so that I wouldn’t be such a giant in his eyes. Sadiri and Mary Jane tried to encourage him to go to us, but it was obvious immediately that this isn’t how his personality works. The more they pushed, the less he wanted to do with us.
Faith and I spoke softly to him. I gave him one of the cars, which he took without hesitation, but immediately separated from me. Pretty much conveyed, “I’m all about the car, but you keep your distance.”
We told his caregivers that we were okay with his being shy, and that we should just head back to the orphanage. So we piled in the van, and headed out of town. We gave him his 2nd teddy bear (I’ll explain in a second) in the van, which he also took readily and held the entire trip, but it didn’t warm him up to us at all.
What’s with the bear? Well, we were advised by a book we read to do the following to help reduce your child’s fear in meeting you… Long before traveling to pick up the child, you buy two identical stuffed animals. You send the first one over in a care package, as far ahead of traveling there as is reasonable. The second animal you keep with you. When you go, take the second one with you. The child will have (theoretically) fallen in love with the stuffed toy by the time you get there, and your showing up with an identical one will essentially confirm your identity to the child. He’ll recognize the bear as familiar, even if he doesn’t recognize you as familiar. Then, when you leave the orphanage, take the one that’s been there the longest with you. The new one can be left behind so that the orphanage will experience a net gain of one more toy, and your child will have a familiar toy with him/her that smells and feels like the home he knows.
I found all of this to be a genius idea. Where it unraveled was in the reality that John doesn’t particularly like / care about stuffed animals. 🙂
Like I said, the orphanage was a ways from Laoag. More than that though, it was in a pretty remote area in general – out in the country. John clung to Mary Jane and paid very little attention to us (despite our occasional efforts to connect) the entire ride.
When we got to Shekinah (John’s orphanage), he lit up and called out to the other children. Not only do I think he loved to play with them and is generally pretty social once he warms up to you, but looking back on it and knowing him a little better now, I think he was also showing off that he had something they didn’t – parents.
We filed into the small building (view pictures of Shekinah Home on Facebook) and met Auring, Sadiri’s wife, who was the last adult to meet until the orphanage director and his family showed up the following Saturday. The kids all called Sadiri and Auring “papa and mama”, and the orphanage director and his wife “grandpa and grandma”. I’ll share more about them later.
After a very brief chat with the adults, we turned our attention back to John, who was now playing on the floor with his new car. The bear had pretty much gotten discarded. I was in dress clothes (dockers and a nice button up), and Faith was in a skirt and nice blouse. We had been advised that it is culturally-approriate to dress up when meeting someone in this context, so there we were. Blazing sun, high humidity, 90ish degrees out, and of course the dog jumped on me with muddy paws the second I stepped out of the van. It was clear that whoever started the dress up in the Philippines rule should be drug out in the street and beaten.
But in a way it was a blessing. By the time I got to the moment where John was on the floor ignoring us at the orphanage, I was dripping sweat and had paw prints all over my nice tan pants. So, the decision was easy. I remember having the conscious thought that even if I had to throw these clothes away, I’d get on John’s level. So, I prostrated myself on the floor belly-down, facing John a few feet away. I rolled the second car to him, which doubled his toy quota. He was thrilled (not with me, but with the car). There was also a pair of rubberbands from somewhere; not even sure where they came from. John had one, and I guess I had the other. He took the 2nd car, and began to try to use the rubberband to attach it to the first car. I inched closer and offered help. It took about 15-20 minutes, but eventually we were playing together, dragging rubberbanded cars around the floor together.
And the rest is history. He kept warming up until ultimately we were playing and laughing, holding him, swapping sunglasses, throwing him up in the air, and swinging him around. We took some awesome pictures of all the fun. Here are a couple of my favorites…
The moments he smiled for the first time and let us pick him up for the first time were huge. The first real hug happened that day too. After all we’d read about attachment disorder, we were prepared for it to take months for him to bond with us and consider us to be special adults who could be trusted. As it turns out, God gave us the gift of having all that take place in a couple hours. How amazing!
Ultimately we ate together, and finally headed back to the cottage where we were to stay as a family that night on the premises. I’ll tell you more about our accomodations and the next several days of just getting to know John-John soon.