For Amanda (Because she's the only one who voted.)
I married young. We had dreams of living that old fashioned life of being young parents. As unpopular as this notion was, I had always thought that my destiny was to be a wife and a mom. A mom like my mom was: at home, crafty, domestic, creative, patient... I would stay home, he would make art. Once the kids were in school, I'd get a part time job, but I'd always be there for them.
Things didn't work out that way. After eight years of marriage and two miscarriages, we still weren't parents. I had had a series of aimless jobs, switching from one to the next haphazardly, always expecting that we would start a family soon and I wouldn't want a real career. He had risen in his career to a successful advertising executive. But we didn't have kids.
After the second miscarriage, we decided to seek medical help. Several months of fertility treatments ended with the doctor telling me that the next step would be for him to stick a long wire up my hoo-haw and waggle it around to see what they could figure out. I declined. We decided to look into adoption.
The funny thing about us was that we always made impulsive decisions. Always. (getting married at 23) And then we would always procrastinate like crazy if there was any effort involved in the follow through. And so we went right from the doctors office that day and started researching adoption agencies. Within days we were sitting through orientation at the Children's Home Society, going over the logistics of domestic vs. international adoption, and the ins and outs of all the different countries that the agency had relationships with. We decided right there that we were going to go get ourselves a kid from Russia.
We went home with a giant packet of paperwork with instructions for writing our life stories, our motivation for wanting to adopt, our parenting philosophies, what resources we had to offer a child. Not to mention all the background clearances and legal hoops that needed to be jumped through. The paperwork seemed insurmountable.
And remember how we were procrastinators? Two years.
During those two years the adoption laws in Russia changed. And after all the research I had done into the orphanages there, the bribes required to get anything accomplished in Russia and the amount of traveling we would need to do, I was almost relieved.
Luckily, the adoption laws had also changed in Guatemala during that time. It wasn't an option two years ago. Now it was. Guatemala was an almost ideal choice for us. Children were available from a very young age. They were in foster care, not orphanages. Fetal alcohol syndrome was almost unheard of there. The one drawback? Guatemalan adoptions were all managed by private lawyers in the country. The result being that it was the most expensive route we could choose. We took out a second mortgage on our house.
We finally turned in all our paper work on Friday, February 11, 2005, and prepared ourselves for months of waiting for a referral (a kid). I got a call at work on Tuesday the 15th. There was a little boy who had been born on Christmas day that could be ours. Just say the word. We rushed to the agency after work and peered over a social worker's shoulder to look at pictures on her computer screen of the little boy that would be our son.
um... yeah. We'll take him.
So once again. Another round of background clearances, fingerprinting, waiting for the Guatemalan government to approve the adoption. More paperwork, more waiting. But also: shopping, preparing, naming.
Often, when I would tell someone about what we were doing, what we were going through, I would get the weird reaction of "I think it's so great that you guys are doing that." As if we were doing it for some altruistic humanitarian reason. My reply usually went along the lines of, "I want a kid and I can't seem to get one the old fashioned way, so this seems to be the next best (legal) option. I mean, I'd steal one off the street if I thought I could get away with it." At which point I would get the stink eye and alienate yet another one of my husbands co-workers.
And then after four months of hurry up and wait, we got the call that everything was approved. We could buy our plane tickets. I gave my two week notice at my job, did some last minute shopping, celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary and hopped on a plane to Guatemala.
My impressions of the country are a blur. Little kids begging at the airport at ten o'clock at night. Guards, armed with machine guns at the McDonalds. Staying at the hotel, where almost all the guests were other parents adopting children. We got there on a Saturday night and wouldn't meet him until Sunday night, so we took a taxi and spent Sunday wandering around Antigua. And I mean wandering around. Both of us in such a daze that we just sort of walked in circles around this ancient, beautiful city like zombies.
I had wanted to buy souvenirs. Gifts that we could give our son when he was older, things from his birthplace. (I have a random collection of stuff I bought stuffed in a closet somewhere, that I pull out once in a while and shake my head, mystified. I'm a bad shopper at the best of times. That day? Wow.)
So we took our taxi back to Guatemala City in the afternoon and waited for a call from the lawyer. She was supposed to call us at 7:00, but we had been warned that Guatemalans have a very loose interpretation of time. So we settled down in our hotel room to wait. They have American TV there, but no commercials, during the commercial breaks there's just dead air. 60 Minutes was on, and that ticking stop watch that they have before and after the breaks in that program still bring me back to those crazy anxious moments. 7:00 came and went. And we watched an entire cop show that was on next.
The phone rang. We went down to the lobby. The lawyer met us at the elevator and ushered us to a table to sign more paperwork before we could meet him, but I saw him out of the corner of my eye as we were sitting down and couldn't concentrate on what the lawyer was saying as I craned my neck around to try to get a look at him.
He was there, with his foster mother, Rita and her teenage daughter. They had taken care of him for his whole six months of life, and they were crying. They didn't want to let him go. They told us through the interpretation of the lawyer that he was a sweet, happy baby. His likes, dislikes, how to comfort him, his feeding schedule... And then they left, sobbing. And after confirming our appointment for the next day at the consulate, the lawyer left us there, standing in the lobby of the Radisson with our son.
We went to the elevator, got in, pushed the button. And I lost it. I was holding this strange little person with porcupine black hair. And I was his mother. I cried and cried. A man got in the elevator with us, my husband shrugged apologetically.
It was way past his bedtime. So once we were back in our room, I undressed him, changed his diaper, put pajamas on him and tucked him into bed. And then I proceeded to not eat or sleep for the next three days. All the anxiety and stress just hit me and I couldn't.
The next day we went to the consulate and got his visa, hung around at the pool, tried to find the right formula to feed him at the drug store. And the day after that we went home. As a family.
He starts kindergarten next week.