We followed our guide down the corridor of the sterile government office building. I heard the traffic from the streets outside: engines humming, impatient drivers horn-honking. The smells of exhaust and pollution from the crowded city lingered in the air, even though all windows were closed.
I was sweating from the August heat and nervousness. My damp dress clung to my back. I could hear my heart drumming, thudding inside my chest. We rounded a corner and entered a room filled with mismatched furniture that had seen better days.
At the far end of the room sat a no-nonsense looking Chinese woman holding a 2-year-old boy who, in spite of the temperatures wore a sweatshirt and flannel pants. The woman said something to the little boy in Chinese then pointed to me and to my husband. The little boy shook his head empathetically and glared at us. Biggest stink-eye I’d ever received. I was over-the-moon happy to put my eyes on this child but clearly, it wasn’t mutual.
I remember the rest of that day as one of the most wonderful, heartbreaking days of my life. I’d spent a year waiting for this little boy: paperwork, social workers, and waiting for permission to board a plane and complete the adoption that seemed to have taken so long.
The woman was an employee of the orphanage where this little boy (now my little boy) had lived since being abandoned on a city street at 4-months-old. I don’t think he felt any attachment to her or even knew her that well, but in his eyes she was helluva lot more familiar and safe than me.
He wailed piteously when I first held him because I was a stranger. I cried too…my heart broke a little bit as this frightened, unhappy little boy trembled in my arms. He sobbed until he passed out from sheer exhaustion and when he woke, he studied my face intently, and shrugged, as if to say “So, you’re still here.” I had some Cheerios and a juice box and although he was wary, he quickly decided I wasn’t that bad.
Our adoption agency refers to the day we became our child’s parents as “Gotcha Day.”
Through two adoptions I learned this is a common term, although the “gotcha” part bugs some people. Some families mark this day as a celebration, sometimes elaborate celebrations. Some families see this day as a time to reflect upon loss of a birth family and a culture and not a reason for cupcakes and balloons.
We celebrate “Gotcha Day” with our two adopted kids although we refer to it as “Zack Day” and “Kyle Day” since our kids became part of our family at different times. We see this time as a happy remembrance. While loss and abandonment are also part of our adoption stories, being a family brings reason to celebrate.
Our kids are young. We’re low key. We usually celebrate with a special meal and looking at pictures of our trips to China. Since our kids were orphaned at early ages and adopted as toddlers, baby pictures are scarce. We answer their questions, which are simple for now. We know hurt or even anger may surface as the questions become more intense.
Sometimes, our announcement of a happy, family celebration draws fire from people, often older adoptees, who think we should focus more on the sorrow than the joy. We don’t hide the past, even when parts of the past are painful but for us. As our kids get older and form stronger opinions, we’ll adjust our course as needed. We waited for them. They waited for us. We celebrate the days the waiting stopped.
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