- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2016

AMESBURY, Mass. (AP) - Jennifer Runnion’s life on a see-saw is over after her adopted daughter Sunny has come home to a place she had never seen before.

“It was up and down for three years,” Runnion said. “We never knew what was going to happen. We would feel like she was coming home and then she wasn’t coming home. And when she finally did come home, none of it mattered anymore.”

Runnion and her husband Timm legally adopted Isilie, nicknamed “Sunny”, from the Democratic Republic of Congo three years ago this month when the little girl was 11-months-old. Already the parents of an Ethiopian adopted daughter Zion (now 8), the Runnions eagerly awaited word of Sunny’s availability. But the Congo had different ideas and Sunny soon became one of hundreds of adopted American children whose exit permits were suspended. The children were unable to leave the central African country.

Over the next two and half years, the American families worked tirelessly with their U.S. Representatives and Senators as well as the U.S. State Department to have the suspensions lifted. Their efforts began to pay off in early February when the adopted children, including Sunny, began slowly trickling into the U.S. to be united with their American families.

“We have been focusing on integrating her into our family and she has integrated pretty easily,” Runnion said. “I attribute a lot of her easy adjustment to the care she got from her foster family in the Congo. She came from a very loving foster family.”

Saying that Sunny has integrated well into her Point Shore home would strike someone as a serious understatement when meeting the three-year-old who speaks excellent English, even though she only spoke a combination of French and Lingala when she and Runnion first met at the airport in February.

“We were kind of looking at each other saying, ‘Hi!’ and we gave a big hug to each other,” Runnion said. “But we didn’t know what to say because she spoke French and I spoke English. Then we came home and Mommy didn’t think about a lot of the little things Sunny wouldn’t know, like how to brush her teeth. She had never seen a toothbrush before.”

Big sister Zion taught Sunny how to brush her teeth, while a different bathroom fixture also caused some confusion at first.

“She had never seen a bathtub before,” Runnion said. “So when I put her in the tub and I turned the water on, she cried and jumped out and didn’t know what to do. She had never seen the water pour out of the bathtub like that.”

But Sunny soon took to the bathtub like a duck to water and has been attending integrated pre-K at the Cashman Elementary School as well as taking drums lessons, just like big sister Zion, at Zach Field Drum Studios in Newburyport.

“It had been a long time coming,” Runnion said. “And I think everybody was just so glad to have her here. But it is a transition. Taking her to Walmart, she had never been in a place like that. I still don’t take her to the grocery store. It’s too confusing. There is too much food. Walmart is still overwhelming. Having too many people over at a time can be overwhelming. But she is so outgoing.”

“Outgoing” is another understatement when referring to Sunny, who is a ball of happy energy and completely fearless.

“Shake you booty!” Sunny said.

Embracing Sunny for who she is has been key to her assimilation, said Runnion.

“We play music a lot and we do a lot of dancing and singing,” Runnion said. “She just becomes a little parrot. She repeats everything. There was a small period of time in between but she learned (English) so fast. She picks up everything so quickly. She is a handful but she is lovely. She is funny and high spirited.”

While going through the process of obtaining Sunny’s exit permit from the Congo, the Runnions also domestically adopted a baby girl named Blu last year. Blu is now one-and-a-half-years-old and officially Sunny’s little sister.

“She is very motherly to Blu,” Runnion said. “She wants to make sure that Blu is OK. I have kind of had to scale her back a little, she can’t change a diaper and so on.”

While she is quick to point out there are still children waiting to be united with their American families, after all of the sleepless nights Runnion finally has all three of her girls together.

“I have another strong girl in the house and I think there is nothing better than raising strong girls,” Runnion said. “The real journey has just begun. We are looking forward to watching her just grow and learn, She is a part of our family, 100 percent a part of our family.”

While happy in her new Amesbury life, Sunny knows no borders and remains very protective of her Congolese heritage and looks forward to the day when she and her family can visit her homeland together so she can show them her, “Congo bed.”

“I like to live with my Congo mom,” Sunny said. “And I like to live with my mom. My Congo is home. And here is home too.”


Information from: The Daily News of Newburyport (Mass.), https://www.newburyportnews.com

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