‘Twas the month leading up to Christmas 2009, and it was anything but brown paper packages tied up with string. Instead of the usual anticipation of the big day, I found myself frantically trying to wrap up a five-month paperwork extravaganza to meet the little girl who would soon make us a Family of Four.

We were waiting on one more okay from the DHS. And during my last phone call, I’d been told that the document in question was sitting on so and so’s desk waiting review and approval. As our adoption was international, any hope of finding a window to head out before the upcoming holiday was closing fast. We understood that the courts in our daughter’s birth country typically shut down for a few weeks around Christmas and, typically, waiting families were encouraged to then hold off until the start of the new year to travel. We’d worked really hard to try and bring her home before the holiday, but had run into a few bottlenecks along the way. And so, when the last day of November came and went and our confirmation hadn’t come (admittedly, there were tears at the last empty mailbox run), I forced myself to pull up my big girl pants and focus on those who were counting on me to be present during the holiday–my husband and then 2-½ year old daughter.

We made sure to send a package to our soon-to-be little one. It contained a cute little red dress, a small stuffed animal, and a blanket. I’d read somewhere to sleep with a blanket or other intimate item and send it down so the child might know your scent and feel somewhat comforted when the day finally came to meet. I honestly have no idea if that’s true, but the thought of it did bring a little comfort knowing that she’d have something to hold onto until she could hold onto us.

Although we still weren’t sure whether or not we’d be home to celebrate that year, we’d set up the tree, strung up the lights, and decorated in all things holiday flavor. I sent out our Christmas cards. My daughter and I made one of those construction paper garland chains of red and green and probably a tad too much glue in between. It was taller than her. Initially, we were going to cut away a lock of the chain to represent each day closer to our trip, but in the end, we kept it together. My husband and I attended our respective company holiday parties. He and I also, with the help of a willing babysitter, snuck out for some secret Santa shopping at the local mall, sipping on peppermint mocha coffee as we strolled merrily along. We must’ve appeared festive on the outside even if on the inside all I wanted for Christmas was to hold the little one I knew would soon be celebrating her second Christmas in an orphanage – far away from us  unaware that we were working so hard to reach her. Unaware of us at all.

Christmas songs were the absolute worst. Even some of the happy ones seemed to bring on the tears each morning on the drive into work. But I remember a few Christmas tunes especially would get to me each and every time. Jim Brickman’s “Sending You a Little Christmas” – forget about it! Break out the tissue, please. And trying to explain to people that you’re fine, really -you’re just missing a child you haven’t even met yet – is difficult enough. Most don’t get it. Trying to plaster on the expected ’tis the season smile for those who don’t understand while they’re hunting down the perfect holiday tie for Uncle Charlie is all the more difficult. You want to be merry and bright. Who wants to go Grinch and miss out on the spirit of the season?

With Christmas just around the corner, we did finally receive the final okay and an itinerary of when we could travel. It would be early January! Suddenly, the holiday blues turned to Oh holy hectic holiday, Batman. Although a little later than we were hoping for, just knowing that it was a go made everything better. This was really happening!

That December turned into a blur of preparation and celebration, along with a different sort of anticipation – that of waiting to meet our daughter far away from the busyness of the season. We headed out so quickly after Christmas that we had little time to do much more than tie up loose ends at home and work, finish packing, and hit the road. Little did we know that our journey would be two months long. As it turned out, there would be a back-to-back court shut-down and a public transportation strike during our stay in country. Neither very helpful circumstances when you’re on a mission to adopt a toddler with another in tow.

We arrived back home in March 2010. Snow still on the ground. Christmas tree still standing in the living room. Lights still strung. Decorations still out. Presents (some still wrapped for our newest addition) under the tree. Our house was soon alive with an oh-so-happy-to-be-home 2-½-year-old who was excited to be back to her schedule and routine and familiar faces, along with a curious now 20-month-old who very quickly made the rounds around her new home–and really didn’t seem to notice the festive decor any more than she did the 101 other new-to-her items all around. The remnants of the holiday were most certainly trumped by this new life we were all living together. All of what I’d thought was important and worried about her missing no longer seemed so important. We were together, that was all that mattered.

As we unpacked our suitcases and settled back into our home and daily routine, so, too, Christmas was set away for yet another year – stacked in boxes that were carried down to the basement as our home was cleared to make way for its newest very active and curious occupant – our New Year’s baby, whom I happily gathered into my arms, the little girl I’d longed to hold for months and cried over to sappy Christmas songs and through seasonal toasts. An adopted child is not a thing nor a gift to be possessed, but the opportunity to be a parent certainly is a gift. The greatest gift of all.

Merry Christmas to all of the little ones who are waiting both in the states and abroad for families to call their own and to all the families waiting and wishing to open their hearts and homes.

“So I’m sending you a little Christmas

Wrapped up with love

A little peace, a little light

To remind you of

How I’m waiting for you, praying for you

I wanted you to see

So I’m sending you a little Christmas

Till you come home to me.”

–Jim Brickman, Sending You a Little Christma