Today we were finally able to celebrate "Gotcha Day" with our now-16-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. She and I both forgot about it on the actual day, December 10th. Her mom, Tara, remembered but Elizabeth was working late, Tara knew it would not work out, and so said nothing. Elizabeth called us that night from work, saying "No big deal, but we forgot my Gotcha Day!"

Tara and I were driving somewhere when she called, so we were on speaker phone through my car's speakers. I immediately apologized, and Elizabeth admitted she had completely forgotten, too. With our conflicting schedules, we had trouble finding a good make-up date. A meal out is usually the extent of our celebration now.

We tried to go to breakfast yesterday at this new place not far away called Big Bad Breakfast. Tara had to finish some last minute things that morning for work, though, so it was 11 by the time we got to the restaurant. There was a line out the door, and none of us likes to wait, so we agreed to forget it, and went home. I'm purposely leaving out all the teenage drama that went along with that decision. But, enough about me. Ha-ha.

Today after breakfast while heading back home — happily, this time — Tara pointed out it was fourteen years ago to the day, December 24, that we got home from Russia with our then-2-year-old Elizabeth. So, in a way, today might be considered the real Gotcha Day because we were back on home soil, with no chance of government authorities changing their minds and taking our daughter from us. We had wanted to return home the minute the Russian Family Court said Elizabeth was ours, but their laws required a ten-day waiting period. We were at least able to leave Astrakhan for Moscow for those last few days in-country.

When we called Delta Airlines to see about leaving a couple days early — because we were done with Russia by that point — they wanted another $800 for each existing $1200 ticket. Even at that price, we were tempted but instead toughed it out those last couple of days in Moscow, almost never leaving our hotel because… well, it was late December in Russia! It would've been slightly warmer in Astrakhan (southwest part of the country), but we had to be in Moscow, anyway, to have Elizabeth's American paperwork finalized at the U.S. Consulate.

Our flight home was on the 23rd but, by the time we landed in Atlanta, it was the 24th. Even though we gained 8 or 9 hours by flying west, it was an 11-hour non-stop flight, so it was the next morning upon touchdown. We must've left Moscow late at night, I don't remember.

Talking about that this morning on our drive home, Elizabeth asked, "Did we celebrate Christmas at all that year?"

"No," I said. "We just slept… and recovered."

Now, we await the arrival of Tara's family (sisters, mother and step-father) for the traditional Christmas Eve gathering. We all despise the step-father — I'll just leave it at that — but are willing to deal with him a couple hours so Tara and her sisters can be with their Mom today.

Elizabeth has to work a few hours this afternoon, and is taking a power nap as I type this. I had woken her and Tara up this morning much earlier than their bodies wanted. They both stay up much later than I do, but we wanted to get to breakfast at a more normal time, not 11-ish. We had to wait 20 minutes for a table, but it was worth it. We were all getting along — a major feat these days — and the food was good. As usual, after eating my omelette, I finished off most of their food, though Elizabeth did want a to-go box for the rest of her toast and bacon. I couldn't finish all of Tara's chocolate-chip pancakes because I just don't like a lot of chocolate. Not for breakfast, anyway.

Elizabeth's next adventure is to fly across the country. Alone. Tara's freaking out, I'm sure, but trying not to show it. Same with Elizabeth, I think, but she's also very excited which acts as a good counter-balance to anxiety. The only part I'm worried about is the change of planes along the way, but Elizabeth says she's got it under control.

Her cousin Natalia — who flew to Europe by herself at 16 a few years ago — will pick her up from the airport. The plan is to go skiing the following day, weather permitting. Jeannie will then take Elizabeth back to her place for a week.

Here's hoping everything works out and everyone has fun, and Merry Christmas!

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