Jan and Jhosy

I made a lousy adoptive parent.

I didn’t make life books for any of my three adopted children. If you’re an adoptive parent, you know what this is. It’s a construction of a child’s life, an age-appropriate picture book that recognizes a child’s past and their transition to the adoptive family. It’s supposed to be therapeutic. A keepsake. I always meant to do it but I never did. My life as their mother, with each one, just went from zero to 60 within minutes of meeting them.

I was immersed in them but thin on documentation. Oh, we had pictures of their homeland and we had stories about coming to get them. We conjectured with them about what might have happened that made them orphans. We created a lot of folklore about how it happened that children from Central America would end up in a family in Milwaukee. Sometimes, they were very proud that we had gone to so much trouble to adopt them. Sometimes, they were pissed off. Adoption is the most extreme mixed bag on the planet, a real yin and yang festival.

Another thing I never did was celebrate “Gotcha Day.” Gotcha Day is just what it sounds like, a celebration of the day that an adoptive mom/dad and child got together. Some families make a party out of it, gifts, a cake, much ado. Not here. Sometimes, the date would pass and we’d only remember days later. Oh, I’d say to my husband, last Tuesday was the day I came home with Jhosy. Oh yeah, he’d answer. And we would go back to what we were doing.

Why didn’t we celebrate? I don’t know. It seemed contrived, too cute, too cheap for the enormity of what had occurred between the two of us in the orphanage courtyard in Nicaragua, her little girl bravery and my grown woman fear negotiating wordlessly under the palms. Even now, twenty-one years later, it is only the two of us who know how hot it was there, how the other children watched from the windows of their little huts where they were supposed to be napping, how we struggled to find a thread to tie us together, like binding a flower petal to water.

But bind we did. I just don’t know when it happened. That makes it impossible to celebrate. You know?