Tomorrow, it will be six years since a Russian judge – seated with a hammer and sickle on the wall above her head – made us a family.
Adoption is a long process and not for the faint of heart. Ours took 15 months, including a 9 month stretch in which we thought we’d never be able to adopt our son. This stretch was particularly difficult because we had already met and fallen in love with him. We had played with him, read to him, and made him giggle. For 5 days, we were physically and emotionally his parents. But, we weren’t legally his parents. We had to go home and await our court date, which was supposed to be 4 to 12 weeks later.
Things fell apart in the Region; who knows why? Our agency worked frantically to sort everything out for us and 5 other families who had also met and fallen in love with their little ones. And every day he stayed in the orphanage, he was deprived of the love and attention (not to mention nutritious food) that we ached to lavish upon him. We already had a roomful of toys, books, and clothes, courtesy of our friends and family who had showered us with gifts, eager to welcome our son. We had to shut the door, so painful was it to walk by that room and see it lacking the little boy who should have been playing with the toys and reading the books and wearing the clothes. We lost faith.
Nine months after we said our tearful goodbye to our son and headed back to the U.S. unaware of just how long it would be until we saw him again, we finally got the call that we needed to go NOW to bring him home. A week or so later, we were on the plane back to Moscow and then onto the town where the “baby home” was.
Seeing him again at the orphanage after so long was odd. We had thought about him incessantly, looked at his pictures, spent many hours crying, thinking we’d never see him again and there he was…having no idea who in blazes we were.
And the next day, we went to court.
I will always remember this. Sean and me, with our translator, Anna, translating everything unbelievably quickly to us in a low voice. The stenographers – two of them – tapping away. The burly Ministry official. The “baby home” (i.e., orphanage) social worker. And the judge, a stern looking dark-haired, bespectacled woman. Everyone made statements in Russian, the judge asking questions, the stenographers tapping away. Sean and I made our statements in English, Anna translating, the stenographers tapping away. The judge rose and stepped out of the room for what seemed like a long time. She came back, smiling. We were exuberant. Sean burst into happy tears and hugged everyone in the room (except for the judge, thankfully).
And, while we were in court – a group of adults deciding to change the fate of a sleeping boy a few miles away – our son had awoken with no idea that he had spent his last night in an orphanage.
I look back on that first night in the hotel with our son. Andre. We had no idea what to do. He was two-and-a-half by this time, an already formed little boy. He wouldn’t let us feed him yogurt; he had been trained to feed himself by then. We played a little. We read a little. After a time, he pointed at a picture and whispered “baby,” his first English word. He slept. We didn’t. We just mostly watched him sleep, trying to wrap our heads around it all. We were parents. And our new little family was snuggled together in the king sized hotel bed.
So, every year, on March 14, we don’t work and Andre doesn’t go to school. We give Andre presents and we do a family outing. We go out to dinner. We look at pictures and watch the videos from our first meetings. We wonder what happened to the other children in the pictures and videos. Did they get their “forever families?” We don’t like to contemplate the possibility that they didn’t.
March 14 is a holiday just for us. “Gotcha Day.”
Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam shehecheyanu v’kiyimanu v’higi’anu laz’man hazeh!!