A Tale of Love with Amber and Tim Kanallakan
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Oliver's StoryDecember 2015
By Jordan Venema
Photos: Kelli Avilla
Amber Kanallakan knew since she was a child, and while dating her would-be husband, Tim, she told him about it; there were hardships, growing pains and financial strains, but never any doubt: One day, the Kanallakans would adopt.
Tim and Amber’s journey to adoption began years ago, and while you could say it finally came to a storybook ending last March in China, when they met their son Oliver for the first time, it’s equally true they’ve only begun a new chapter.
It’s been little more than six months since they boarded that plane, full of anticipation and maybe even some anxiety, to pick up the 10-month-old boy who only weeks before had finally materialized in a letter and photograph. Since then, both Tim and Amber say the ride has been something of a rollercoaster, “with really good days and really hard days, “but at this point,” says Amber, “more good days than hard ones.” It’s been “a lot of adjusting for him, a lot of adjusting for us.”
The adoption process was anything but a nine-month pregnancy, and though Amber didn’t carry Oliver in her belly, both she and Tim carried other weight – financial concerns, worry over bureaucratic red tape, and sometimes wonder – will this ever happen?
But then, everything fell into place: they had the money when they needed it, the papers had been processed, they got the photo, and ultimately, in a word that doesn’t begin to describe the involved process: they got permission. And then it was a whirlwind.
“We had a lot of fears about going to China, travel concerns and stuff,” Tim says, but ultimately: it was awesome.
Amber says the experience was surreal, a this-is-really-happening moment. “There’s this weird period of time, a short period of time, between getting the referral and knowing: this is him, we have a picture, we have a name, we know where he is right now.” And, says Amber, “it went very quickly.” They got the referral Dec. 9 and they were on a plane March 12.
Like a real pregnancy, though, “it was like going up to the hospital while I was waiting. This is going to happen, this is getting real,” Amber recalls thinking. “So much anticipation, and joy, and fear, and you’re trying to process but not think too much.”
All that came to a kind of a rush, when the Kanallakans were thrown headlong into a different culture, with new scents and colors, try to imagine that blur before the fond familiarity of a child.
Though they’d never been to Asia before, they discovered, “we loved China so much.” It came naturally, and much more than they expected, and they look forward to celebrating his heritage with him.
Then they returned, where they were greeted by friends and family. After the initial celebration, then came the settling. Amber describes that first week like a cocoon. Both were sleep deprived, their other two children had missed them, and Amber admits they weren’t exactly getting their parents back fully.
They may have retreated for a time, missed church and community, but it was a kind of chrysalis, a stability. That was their job, says Amber, to create a regular environment, a routine, build trust. Oliver, says Amber, “would have panic attacks, wouldn’t sleep.” It wasn’t all the time, and mostly at night, she says, but “I think a lot of times for kids that came from an institution, it’s such a traumatic event to go from something familiar to completely unfamiliar in a matter of hours… Closure doesn’t exist.”
They had prepared how they could, reading books, talking with other adopting parents, but practically, they had to learn when and how to comfort Oliver. Lack of sleep was the biggest issue, “but we were prepared for that. We did as much preparation as we could… but it’s one thing to read that chapter in a book and another thing to live that chapter.”
But with time they noticed, Oliver began to smile more often, he grew stronger.
Tim recalls when they first came back with Oliver, “he could hardly sit up and his head was so heavy he would kind of fall – he’d sit up for a minute and that was all he could handle.” Amber adds, “His legs were like jelly… and to go from that to walking in August,” she ponders.
“Six months later,” she says, “he’s loud, thinks he’s so funny, he loves to dance… He’s constantly laughing, constantly exploring… The first three weeks we were home, he wouldn’t really go anywhere but the living room. But it was fun to watch him as the weeks progressed, get brave and crawl into the hallway, or another room.”
Both Amber and Tim admit they sometimes don’t know what they’re doing. So really, they’re like every other parent – learning as they go.
But the familiarity, the joy they’ve experienced, to witness his growth – that is a story every parent is familiar with. Tim agrees: “Just seeing him thrive, and being a happy little boy. I was stressed about financial stuff, but he’s awesome. I can’t imagine had we not done it. He’s a fun, crazy, kid that we love.”
“Everyone’s story is different,” Amber says, saying that also makes it hard to give advice. But how does any parent offer advice, when the best they can do is really to empathize, to say, “I’m here, because I’ve been through this, too.” Which, coincidentally, is what every parent implicitly says to their children. And that Oliver was their child was never a question. “It was an immediate: this is my son, I love him as much as I love my other two children,” says Amber, with Tim agreeing thoughtfully, “Yeah.”
And while advice might be harder to come by than empathy, there is one bit of advice the Kanallakans would give. “Just say yes, just go for it. You don’t want to miss out. The risk is worth it,” says Amber. And yes, there were the financial fears, she adds, “but God gave us everything we needed” – so they could give their son everything he needs.
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