A few days ago my family and I returned home from an extraordinary journey. We were gone for two weeks (it felt like years, though – and in a way we traveled back in time). Our destination was Hungary, our daughter’s native country, where we met her for the first time four years ago. Back then Reni was two years old and had been living with a foster-family since birth.
I wanted to bring her back to her roots, and help her to create a conscious connection with her past, but within the safety of her childhood lightness. Many children who have experienced an adoption struggle more during the adolescent years (which are difficult enough as they are to anyone!). By doing this trip I hope to take the edge off the turmoil that might come later. To start questioning one’s very existence and place in the world, while the hormones are roaring inside the body is something I hope to spare her from.
Her father Carl and I decided from the start to be truthful to her about her past. One day when she was four years old, she suddenly asked me:
-Have I been in your belly?
My heart made an extra beat and I remember thinking: Oh, oh, here it is! The moment of truth… So I told her:
-No, you haven’t.
– Ok! she said, as if I had told her what we were going to have for dinner. Then no more was said regarding her past for a couple of weeks. Then next question came, weeks past and then next question. Slowly, at her own pace she got her story (of course in a version suitable for her age). This spring I had a strong feeling that she was ready to revisit her past. When we told her about our trip, she looked forward to come back to her “home-country”, as she calls Hungary.
We decided to drive down from Sweden to Hungary. Luckily we live in the southern parts of our country, but it is still a long trip – 1300 kilometers.
Already on the bridge over to Denmark I realised that this trip was not only for Reni’s sake, it was for her parents as well. It was like being moved back in time to 2014, the same emotions took hold of me.
When we crossed the border to Hungary, close to the town Sopron, she fell silent. I could see that she was taking in the difference in energy. We drove through the lushness, passing the green pastures, the sunflower fields, the small villages on our way to the place where she had lived. It is a small town called Sümeg, where we were going to spend the first night. After dinner we took a walk, to see if she would recognize her old home-town and also for Carl and me to take a stroll along memory lane.
In 2014 we spent five days in Sümeg, each day meeting Reni a little longer to make her used to us, and to give the psychologist from the social services opportunity to see if we were suitable to become her new parents. It felt strange to be back, and in our “experiential luggage” now having the answers to so many of the questions we had asked ourselves back then.
We had been so worried if she would feel safe with us, worried over the difficult process Reni was about to go through and the deepest worry was of course if we would be good enough parents for her…
Before leaving Sümeg the following day we had lunch. On the opposite side of the street from our restaurant there was a little corner-shop that seemed irresistible. While Carl paid for our lunch I took Reni by the hand and went over the street. We browsed around the aisles, when I heard someone speaking very quickly in Hungarian. A smiling woman with shiny eyes suddenly appeared in front of us saying: – Reni, Reni, Reni!!! After using all the languages we had, including sign and body language, I understood that is sweet lady, with tears in the corner of her eyes, was Reni’s “foster-aunt” Anita. Another lady came forward with a tender smile on her face, talking soothingly to Reni, repeating her name over and over. My limited Hungarian vocabulary wasn’t enough to figure out who she was – but that she knew Reni was totally clear. Finally Anita’s son came to help with the translations and he also shared that he often had been baby-sitting Reni. I later learned that Reni had visited Anita in her shop almost daily.
I have often pictured what the return to Hungary would be like, but I was not prepared for this. To realise that my daughter has made such an impression in other people’s lives, that she has a special place in so many hearts in her native country. It was an amazing feeling to watch the kindness and love coming towards my child from, to me, complete strangers. That I by association was included in the care and joy. It was very special to laugh and hug a woman I didn’t even know existed 10 minutes earlier. I left the shop on shaky legs, touched by what just had happened.
For Reni it was a little bit difficult. I could feel her pounding heart and she was glued to my leg while waving her little wave to these ladies. Even if she can be a little bit shy, she is not afraid of strangers normally, so some kind of memory must have surfaced. Emotions that she could not really understand and explain to herself.
The next day we continued our quest down to the Balaton Lake where Reni’s foster-mother Kati now lives together with her wonderful daughters and Tamàs. They came to pick us up at the hotel where there were joyful tears and laughter, hugs and then some more tears. Reni stayed in the background, observing, feeling, trying to sort things out on her own way.
We were invited to Kati and Tamàs’ home and spent one of the most extraordinary afternoons I have had in my life. Meeting us at the door was the family dog, one of Reni’s best friends when she was a toddler (who stoically had accepted having her delicate dog-ears bitten by toothless gums). I felt the tears shooting up in my eyes when I saw how the dog recognized Reni, and how they connected immediately.
It took a little longer for Reni to approach her foster-mother and foster-sisters, and I could see how she needed to process all the impressions, the emotions and the unconscious memories that suddenly floated up to the surface. Before our stay in Hungary was over, I saw my fantastic little girl baking mudd-cakes in the sand-box, chasing Kati with a barbecue thongs in the garden, giggling and laughing happily. I saw her playing and connecting with her foster-sisters and Kati’s new protegés (two of the most adorable babies I have ever seen, how I would have loved to bring them with home with me).
We had many hours of conversation on the three wonderful and heartfelt visits to Kati and Tamàs’ home. So many questions were answered. Both for those who saw this wonderful, little girl leave to begin a life in a foreign country far away. As well as those who were blessed with an unexpected flower to care for and love. I sensed how a lot of healing happened within us, I think Kati and her daughters would agree to that as well.
It was a delightful and invigorating craziness of babies, teenagers, parents and the dog always in the midst of it. Kindness, laughter and warmth floating in the air. Such generosity and hospitality (we didn’t manage to leave once without a package of food in the hand!). It felt as if we got a bunch of new relatives – it even feels like we have known them our entire life. We can’t wait to see them again!!!!
There are many difficult professions in the world, but I think Kati has chosen one of the hardest. To care for children in need, either orphaned or those who, for one reason or another, cannot stay with their parents. To love and nurture them (and when I saw her with the two babies who are in her care at the moment, I would add, to heal them). To help these children to an inner stability and a sense of security so they can handle the stress from their past and the enormous pressure they will experience in the adoption-process. Her and Tamàs’ home is like a greenhouse for children; with stability, respect, proper food and an abundance of love. She has to let them go towards an unknown future and she can only hope that the new parents will stay in touch with her. I can see how it breaks her heart each time she sees someone go. It’s heroic and one of the most beautiful examples of unconditional love I have ever seen. I now realise the full extent of Reni’s luck, that she ended up with Kati, and I will always be grateful for what she did for the child we have in our care.
The rest of our time in Hungary we spent in Budaörs, just outside Budapest, in the very same condo we rented during our six weeks in Hungary, four years ago. Somehow we ended up visiting the same places as last time. Revisited memories, emotions and stories to be told about when our life changed overnight. We had planned to spend the remaining days as one would on a more “normal” vacation; adventure and exploration, but we were all a little bit taken by the situation. So we enjoyed the stillness and the peace.
The last evening before returning home, wonderful Andrea, who work as an intermediary between adoption-organisations, the social services and the foster-families invited us for dinner at her home. We spent a beautiful and wonderful evening in her company. She was our rock during the entire time we stayed in Hungary last time. An organisational phenomenon and a true Demeter in the most positive of aspects. Caring and nurturing as well as helping us through all the complicated legal procedures – always with the childrens best in focus. I sat at her table, and felt the same feeling of safety and peace as I always do around her. The world is truly filled with extraordinary people.
Many times since Reni came to us, I have admired this little girl, how she has managed to handle the tremendous changes she has had to go through. Somehow she has succeeded to keep herself intact, and she is growing up to be a kindhearted, cheeky, willful human being.
Even if an adoption is a joy and fulfilment of dreams for the parents, it is traumatic for the children (and for some maybe one of the most difficult times in their life). They leave behind everything that is familiar. In Renis case, as she moved from one country to and other, everything changed – the language, the food, the smells, and even the nature is completely different. Going from one structure and set of rules, to a different set of routines. To handle the emotional loss, finding her own place in all the new, surviving the change asked an enormous effort from her.
When seeing this process with eyes of reason, the stability of a family, a home, a support-system is a good thing. But the path towards feeling that an adopted child are someone’s child, to trust, to be at home and feel supported is not easy, and a child does not look at the world with eyes of reason. What hopefully is for the better for them, is connected to a huge amount of emotional pain.
Our little Reni is a fighter, a survivor and a very wise being despite her young years. As I wrote above – she spent time in Kati’s greenhouse of love and care, and I realise how much her foster-mother has helped her to prepare for this process.
For her parents, this trip in a very strange way gave closure, and a wonderful opening to something new.
By revisiting all the places, I could heal a lot of the worry, the struggles that has been in the process of becoming Reni’s mother. (To adopt a child rather than having a biological one gives motherhood a little different flavour, and all the additional challenged are rewarded with a very special sweetness). Pieces of my soul that somehow had been left behind along the way, came back to me and I could even feel it physically. Empty parts in me were filled again. Today I feel a wholeness in my being that was missing when we left home three weeks ago.
Even if intuition told me we were about to commence an extraordinary journey, reality was so much more fantastic than I could ever have imagined! I feel a deep gratitude.
(Tucked into my bag, I brought my next crazy project with me home… )
Thank you for letting me share my experience with you.