When we left to run errands during those first few days, he wasn’t sure we were coming back. And who could blame him? We weren’t exactly reliable for recognizing a good thing when we found it. We had given up on a fantastic breakfast buffet in our Chinese hotels to travel for days just to a place where the food wasn’t ready made. Who would pick bottled yogurt smoothies over crisp strips of bacon and soft steamed dumplings every morning?
“Home is where the heart is,” goes the phrase. And it’s true. But for children who are adopted as toddlers, it isn’t as if you can easily explain that a strange, unfamiliar place is home.
When we met our sons as toddlers in China, everything was new and different. We were strangers to them. We spoke a language they had never heard, fed them unusual foods, and expected them to eat and play and sleep in a different place.
For the first two weeks—for each of our adoptions—we lived out of suitcases in hotel rooms.
If home is where the heart is, a hotel room for a newly formed adoptive family is home. But if home is where you can make a meal with an instrument other than a hot pot and not worry about having to lock your passports in a safe, then a hotel room is not exactly home. Not even when there’s a fantastic playroom down the hall.
Our older son stayed in two different hotel rooms in China and a hotel room in Chicago before we finally arrived home together at our house in Baltimore.
He had just turned 2 and, even after only two weeks of hearing English, he understood almost everything we said to him. But there was no way for us to explain to him that this had been our goal the whole time. This place, yet another unfamiliar building full of toys and food and beds, was our final destination.
This house, I wanted to tell him, was not just another set of rooms along the way.
This was special.
This was home.
Of course, after our long trip home—and it took days—he was just happy not to be in an airplane or a car. He played contentedly, ate as I had never seen a child eat before, and he even slept well from the beginning. But I could tell he didn’t know whether we were there to stay.
Yet he loved our house.
As the days and weeks went by, our little boy started to trust that this was our special place. And one night after our long daily commute together, I turned our car into the neighborhood and he called out with joy, “Home!”
My eyes filled with tears. Yes, we were home. Home to stay.
But it wasn’t until we returned from a weekend overnight road-trip that I realized he was just a little uncertain. We went away to see my sister and brother-in-law and their four children. All weekend he and his cousins played with abandon and joy. It was wild and fun and everything you would hope for in a weekend road trip.
Then we climbed into our car and came home.
When we walked through the door, I put our son down and watched him celebrate being home. He went from toy to toy, climbed onto the couch, pulled out some books, and beamed the whole time.
I realized then, after that first trip away, that he finally believed this was home. And we watched it happen again with his younger brother after his first weekend away.
So maybe that’s how you know you’ve found your home. When you come back to it again after leaving it behind.