Thursday, June 21, 2007

Leaving Vietnam

It's 3:30 in the afternoon, Seattle time, and the family has been napping for several hours now after our marathon travel day yesterday. Crossing the international date-line makes it seem so efficient, all of the pain and frustration of traveling is somehow worthwhile when you can cram it into a 24-hour period and then manage to have the day handed back to you when you arrive home. Of course, we're paying for it a little bit right now.

But it is good to be home, finally. Living in a hotel is no way for active 4 and 5 year-olds to live. They need a home and places to play, not constant reminders to behave in public by stressed-out parents overwhelmed by the details of traveling with children in a foreign country. One of my favorite memories from our trip was when we went out to dinner on our second to last night in Hanoi. Henry An was goofing off and cracking himself and us up (have I mentioned that he's got a very strong sense of humor?). Still, it was getting little out of control and other tourists at the restaurant were starting to glance over in our direction. When the waitress stopped by, Mollia asked her, in apparent seriousness, "Could you please tell him to keep his voice down in Vietnamese?" She wasn't able to get the question out completely before dissolving into laughter. We were all laughing. It was a moment that crystallized the total challenge of our circumstances: there we were, the new parents of a fun-loving 4 year old boy in a sit-down restaurant, unable to even give our child a reminder to behave appropriately in words he could understand. Not to mention that this boy, until he met us only a little more than a week earlier, was hardly accustomed to going out to dinner, let alone knowing what his behavior should be like in this brand new setting. Given his lack of experience, I would say he did pretty darn well.

But as much as it is a relief to be home, finally, it also feels rather sudden too. It's jarring to return to this country from someplace so far away, from a country so different in culture and so needy for things we almost never imagine we might lack. It's beyond a cliche to say that in this country we take what we have for granted, but it is true nevertheless.

It was poignant for me when we flew out of Ho Chi Minh City bound for Taipei. Henry An had the window seat next to me and was looking down at the rapidly receding landscape. I realized that what his four-year old eyes were witnessing were the final moments of his first few years of growing up in Vietnam. I wondered how much he would remember of them and how much he might remember of our trip when we came to get him. And then it occurred to me, for the first time in a real way, how many more opportunities for growing and becoming the person he truly is he would have in America. As much as I came to adore Vietnam during our trip, Henry An's situation of growing up in an orphanage, well cared for as he was, was the very definition of unfortunate. And for the first time since we started this process, I felt truly relieved that we were able to do something about that. While we are hardly well-off, just providing a home for him here in America puts him in a position to do so many things that never would have been possible had he remained in Vietnam. And while I'm very grateful that to be able do something that changes another person's life story so dramatically, I continue to feel like we are the lucky ones for being able to have such a lovely, spirited, and funny boy come into our family. He is the one that is dramatically changing us and for the better. He's added a big, fat chapter to our family story, and I'm so excited to get a chance to read it.

More pictures added today. Click on link for "Our Pictures" above.

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