Celebrating adoption: The day you meet your child for the first time

There’s nothing like that first time you see your child in person.
You see his picture and fall in love. You fill out piles and piles of paperwork, get fingerprinted twice, fill out more paperwork, and then finally pack your bags to travel to the other side of the world.
Even once you’re in China, the minutes drag by. You’re always on the brink of laughing and crying, a bundle of nerves and excitement and wonder and hope.

You’re about to hold your son in your arms.
This little one’s story doesn’t begin with you, just as your story doesn’t begin with him. But your stories are intersecting and once they do, they will be joined forever. You can’t wait.
But you have to wait. One more day. Three more hours. Thirty more minutes.
Just when you think you might explode from impatience, you’re there—and hold on, so is he. Is that the child you’ve been waiting for? That little boy clutching a bag of snacks?

It is. He looks tired and hot—it’s August in Guangzhou, after all—and he’s absolutely beautiful.
He has silky hair and deep brown eyes, perfect sweet little lips, a SpongeBob outfit his big brother at home will envy, and a head he buries in your shoulder—and then his father’s.

Somehow he’s both bigger and smaller than you thought he’d be. You and your husband take turns holding him and signing papers and holding him again. You’re smiling and crying and talking to him, drinking him in.

You can’t get enough of him. You know you never will.

You’re strangers and yet family. You’re joined forever and yet you can barely communicate. You’re promising to love and protect him forever, and yet he isn’t sure he trusts you enough to accept that sippy cup of apple juice.
You can’t blame him. You can’t even guess what he’s thinking.
But day by day, hour by hour, you learn one another. You grieve together. You laugh together. You hear him call you “Mama” and “Baba” on your first night together. You watch this shy little boy with a whispering voice start to sing songs for you in Cantonese and then become the life of the party. You marvel at him and wonder how you could ever have been granted the tremendous gift of being his mother. You still don’t know.

Five years later, you’re telling him again about that day—as you have so many times before. He doesn’t remember it. He was only a 20-month-old toddler, not the 6 1/2-year-old dynamo he is now. But he listens to you tell a story from another side of the world, from another moment in time, the story of the day you became his parents and this amazing child became your son.
Then he runs off to play with his older brother.
When you adopt—or even when you give birth—you know you’re saying yes to parenting a child. That’s a yes, you could argue, that we voiced as a couple on our wedding day nearly 12 years ago. But you don’t know all that “yes” fully entails. You don’t know who that child is. You don’t know who that child will grow to be. And so every day is like opening a present.

That day we first met our son was a gift. So is today. And so was every day along the way.
But today is extra special, especially because, as our younger son reminds us, “it is my Gotcha Day”—the anniversary of the day we met, five years ago.
How will we celebrate? Our little guy wants to go fishing, eat lunch at his favorite Mexican restaurant, take in an Orioles game, have his cousins over for dinner for Chinese food and brownies, buy a new toy, hunt for Pokemon, get fresh flowers for our house, and do a thousand other activities he’s still thinking of.
Somehow I don’t think we will be able to fit that all in. But we will make sure we celebrate this little boy we held in our arms for the first time five years ago. We are so blessed, and he is so very loved. 

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.