The restaurant I work at recently hosted an annual get-together for an area adoption agency. What followed was an evening that really affected me…
Now typically my first thought when I hear “adoption agency” is of a white, middle-class couple who can’t conceive. That’s commonly the case, and growing up I can remember my pastor, Steve and wife, Sandy, adopting an infant boy and girl from South Korea.
The overall notion I had was one of bringing minority babies into a white, American world. This understanding of the adoption process lacked much—not just in terms of the process, but in terms of the motivations of the parents and the influence the children have on their adopters.
Perhaps since traveling and living abroad, my idea of adoption has shifted to consider it from the child’s perspective—their country/culture of origin and how these global families tie the world together.
My ears on this topic started to sharpen when I was in Guatemala four years ago. I was in the lobby of a nice hotel in the capital, Guatemala City, one morning as a meeting point for my friend/tour guide. Inside, I saw one of these white, middle-class American couples. They looked like tourists, of course, but minus the excitement for a day’s activities ahead. It was soon apparent why they were there. A local woman arrived with an infant in a stroller. The couple greeted the child with love, excitement, and adoration.
Would this child be going home with them?
Later on in that trip I met another American woman who, with her husband and two local, adopted children, had veered off the beaten path, taking a tour of a small city and was taking a liking to rural Guatemala. I saw here how international adoption opened the world to the parents. It’s a lot more than a having the baby sent to you.
This evening at my restaurant opened the world to anyone present as children from all over the globe were there. And more than just the surface, I was able to learn the depths of the adoption process—the challenges involved and the emotions triggered.
While it was still quiet, some minutes before the event began, the former perspective that I grew up knowing: of the minority child growing up in white America, quickly became supplanted by the latter: the introduction of us Americans to the worlds of these children.
A large, three-panel display sat on a welcome table outside the ballroom. Each panel featured a country and representative pictures of waiting children. There were four or five children pictures from China, from Columbia, and from the Philippines.
Every picture was accompanied with a paragraph describing the child. Some children had special needs, some were upwards of ten years old; their names were given. Interestingly, either Columbia or The Philippines identified each child not by name, but by number. It struck me, this dehumanizing aspect.
Moments later, while I was still standing at the display, I spoke with one of the event organizers, Heidi, a woman in her mid-late thirties—herself and her husband with two young adoptees. She shared with me that, indeed, the process is, in plain language, a kind of shopping. Parents looks through the different offerings, sees which one is the best fit, and then tries it out.
She was very frank about this; I appreciated it. And she also accompanied the language with a sympathy for all those involved. Meanwhile, she demonstrated her frustration with how “cool” some seeking parents are about the whole process, returning a child with seemingly little attachment.
Indeed, true to the whole “shopping” process, returns are possible and happen. But though admitted by her, she couldn’t understand it, and to my comfort this stereotype of the elitist couple handing back babies willy-nilly wasn’t confirmed in any example I saw this night.
Rather, the children were the story, and their lives and their happiness here in America with loving parents defined the night.
Dozens of families came and a rainbow of children ran around playing. One young Chinese girl—around 4 years old—caught my eye. She was adorable in her little holiday dress and precious smile. Her left arm was amputated shy of the elbow. One feels for this handicap on such an innocent victim, and on top of that, is touched by how she went about playing with absolutely no recognition of her physical shortcoming.
Of all the parents, one father caught my eye. He differed from my idea of what most adopting parents looked like, indeed differed from all the others there that night. A mustached man with a 5 o’ clock shadow, he wore a blue-collar-type baseball hat and sported a flannel. A tall and lanky, dark haired, middle-aged white fella; I approached him at a table surrounded by kids.
This man and his wife have adopted 13 children.
Their first is now a 24-year-old Romanian woman. And get this: touched by a local news story, roughly 24 years ago, about adoption that featured this woman back when she was a baby, this mustached man and his wife flew to Romania and found the very girl. Today, she acts as a third parent to the others: another Romanian, five Ukranians, and six Columbians. Those six Colombians are two sets of siblings of four and two.
Who can imagine the kind of effort needed to keep this family running. The mustached man and wife demonstrated such charity and concern for these parentless children, on top of the desire to have a family.
Indeed, in speaking with Heidi some more, I realized that opposing the emotionally withdrawn adopting parent, was the fact that these “middle-class American white couples” are sometimes more affected than even the birth-mothers. She told me about meeting the mother of her newly adopted baby in their country. They spent some days together during the hand-over process. By the end of her stay, Heidi cried as she parted with the biological mother. The birth-mother seemed calm and fairly unaffected watching her baby carried away by its new parents.
(It’s another article examining the lives of these women—how in Heidi’s case, they came to voluntarily forfeit their child to an orphanage.)
The whole adoption process is full and fraught with emotion. And it seems that though all adopting parents want the same thing—a child—perhaps they do so under different motivators.
But this event got to the bottom line: children finding a safe, healthy place to grow up; childless couples getting to have a family. More than that, it featured examples of charity and love that I never before considered in the world of adoption, and the sight of children running around with such glee revealed just how wonderfully it can improve lives and bring the world together.
I even walked away with a little souvenir. At the beginning of the event, I walked around and saw some of the little games set up for the kids. I saw a vertical Wheel of Fortune-type wooden circle about two feet wide. I spun the sucker and saw the arrow point to the green slice of the wheel. “I won”, I exclaimed to a little 6-yr-old girl who watched. I walked away to continue my job. Some minutes later the little girl handed me a little green bouncy-ball. I was confused for a tick, but remembered the spinny wheel.
Apparently she did, too, found my prize, and hunted me down to reward me. The little, green bouncy-ball has a little smiley face on it, and I keep it in my work apron to this day.
See the little smiley faces in your day: )
to new plateaus,