I missed an important milestone last week. April 18th was the anniversary of B.Lake’s arrival in the United States – his “Gotcha Day”. Missing a Gotcha Day is not a big deal at our house, honestly. With five children, birthdays are hard enough to stay on top of without adding more holidays. But this was not just any Gotcha Day. April 18, 2012 marked the 10th anniversary of B.Lake’s homecoming. Ten years.
I helped out with an adoption training seminar last week, telling prospective parents what it’s like to adopt and parent internationally or transracially or, in our case, both. At one point I held up a photo of B.Lake taken at the orphanage before he came home. It got the same reaction it always has – “Ohhhhh!!! Look at those eyelashes!”
In the winter of 2001 I was looking for Creole language sites online (my brother was preparing to go to Haiti on a mission trip). I stumbled upon a photolisting for an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, and there I saw a photograph of a little boy with plump cheeks, serious eyes, and the longest eyelashes I’d ever seen. He was gorgeous and he seemed to leap off the computer screen and ask if I was ready for another child. Yes. Absolutely.
The adoption process was unpleasant, to put it mildly. The orphanage directors assured us that it was a breeze to adopt from Haiti. “He’ll be home in three to five months,” they said. A year and a half later we finally traveled to pick up our son, and in the meantime Cheesy had come to us, unexpectedly. This meant that we added two children to our family in five months – one a newborn, the other a very confused and traumatized three-year-old. I don’t recommend it unless you have a very strong constitution.
When Mr. Right and I adopted Striker in 1998 we opted not to travel to India. Having her escorted home was given as an option, and I’m a bit of a wuss. We weren’t seasoned travelers; I worried that the combination of travel in a very foreign environment and caring for a child we’d just met would be too stressful. Escorting is rarely offered as an option in international adoption these days, and I understand why. Seeing your child’s birth country is a valuable experience, providing information that you’ll be able to share with them as they grow older. But my instinct that such a trip could be stressful? I wasn’t wrong about that. We traveled to Haiti, and our few days there were the longest of my life. I remember them as days soaked in tears and sweat and urine (we were ill-prepared for the fact that B.Lake was not yet potty trained). Mr. Right got food poisoning; the people we worked with in Haiti did not seem entirely trustworthy; the poverty of the country was emotionally overwhelming.
I have two particularly strong memories. One is of a grueling seven hours spent at the American Consulate, waiting for some Very Important Document without which we could not take B. Lake home. The Hot Wheels and gummi bears that I’d packed pacified B.Lake for only the first few hours. After that he was wild with frustration and anxiety – and so was I. A few people gave me looks that communicated their disapproval of my parenting. I wanted to beat them senseless.
The other memory is of a night at the airport in Port-au-Prince. We were scheduled to fly home that day, but a storm shut down the entire airport. It was very late, we had no idea where to go, and I was just….done. Mr. Right held up well, but B.Lake and I sat down on the floor and wept together.
Did you know that if your child is hysterical enough the flight attendant won’t make him fasten his seat belt on takeoff? At least that was the case with B.Lake, when we finally left Haiti the next day. He was literally foaming at the mouth with terror, wetting himself (and me) constantly from the stress. I have always worried too much about what other people think, but that day I just didn’t give a #%&*. I wanted to get home, and keeping up appearances was the last thing on my mind.
In the Miami airport, B.Lake was pulled out of line for a TSA screening. Naturally. At the St. Louis airport we learned that our luggage was missing. Of course. It was, to put it bluntly, the trip from hell.
Sometimes you come through an experience and think, “I would never go through that again!” Well, maybe not again, but it was certainly worth it the first time. Parenting B.Lake has not always been easy. To quote another parenting veteran, “mistakes were made.” I’ve always blundered my way into things with too much confidence and too little preparation, and adopting B.Lake was no exception. He was developmentally delayed, learning disabled, malnourished, grieving. I was busy, tired, impatient, harsh. I failed him in 101 ways, but somehow he hung on. He didn’t lose the essentially kindhearted nature we saw in his first weeks home, when he constantly kissed baby Cheesy on the head. She was getting much of the mothering that he desperately needed at that moment in his life, but he didn’t resent her. He adored her.
B.Lake is finishing 7th grade. Academics are still a challenge for him, but his teachers genuinely like him. He is a strong and disciplined athlete in cross-country, wrestling, and track. He’s also turning into a ladies man: “They come to me, Mom. I don’t go to them.” It’s probably the eyes that get them. He still has those eyelashes, along with something we didn’t see in those first photos – a blinding, beautiful smile.