"They were mostly just happy - not surprised, or taken aback, no jaws on the floor, no pause at the door to the room. They saw it was Jennifer and I, and they sprinted for us. Today was a great day. They are ready to move in and don't want to wait for the next hearing. They seem content and relaxed and pleased to know it's us. Thank you, Jesus!"
For the long version, keep reading! :)
On October 10, Jake and I turned in the memo to the court that officially requested the adoption of the three boys, along with the thick stack of papers that we had worked on all year.
On December 10, we had our first hearing! The night before it started to rain, and it was still pouring steady when we got up early to get ready. It turned out to be the rainiest day of this rainy season thus far! We were also on day 2 of 4 of blockades. Jake hadn't even gone to work the day before. Of all days!! I was now recalling my nightmare of two nights before of not being able to make it to court on time.
As soon as Kaley arrived, a repeat CDA volunteer, we left. We planned for her to come to court with us and be with Sophia if she was in a noisy mood. We made it to court by 9:10am—muddy and a little wet, but 20 minutes early, yeah! The judge had somehow double-booked herself at 9:30, but we were taken in first at about 9:45. I think the hearing lasted about 30 minutes. It was pretty intense! The judge said little during the hearing, sitting quietly and rifling through our papers, but one of the government representatives grilled us with questions. There were maybe 10, including how did we meet the three boys (in my case, I’ve known them since their first days at Casa de Amor), why we chose them, could we support four children, what are the differences between being an adoptive and biological parent, what our families think of the adoption, and how do we plan to respond to discrimination concerning the boys.
Jake answered most of the questions, or he would begin and I would finish. We were both a little nervous! I figure I have been in at least 25 hearings in Bolivia, but this was the first time the case was about me! But thankfully, all went well. The other government body present simply said she agreed that our answers were positive and also recommended that the adoption continue forward.
The judge then officially pre-assigned us to our three boys, dictating their names and birthdates to the court secretary. Jake and I smiled at each other! The judge briefly consulted with our lawyer Sandra if she should now request informes (reports) from the hogar, and Sandra of course said yes. She then dictated, interestingly, that Casa de Amor’s equipo (professional team—social worker and psychologist) write a report on our “convivencia” (living with) and treatment of the boys, rather than stating exactly that it detail a certain amount of visits, the usual course of action.
One big detail that was a recurring theme in the hearing was that Jake does not yet have his two year visa. We were relieved that at least this factor was not delaying our case! (One must live here at least two years to be able to request an adoption. Theoretically, we should have requested guardianship first until Jake meets all requirements, but my time here and the boys’ ages is on our side. Still, the court and other authorities want proof that Jake is continuing past his first year here.)
The two goals of this hearing had now been met! And the baby slept through it all, amazing!
The judge pulled our lawyer aside before she left the room and asked why we hadn’t requested that the boys come straight to live with us. Uh… We hadn’t known that was an option!! We were just trying to follow the format everyone follows and not ask for special privileges. But the judge agreed that since they were as yet unaware of the adoption, that visits were a good idea first.
As we left the court discussing details with Sandra, I called Rosa to let her know we were indeed on the way! The boys had been at the Baby Home all morning, the reason unknown to them. Once we got to the Baby Home, we sent Kaley inside first to double-check that the boys were out of sight, to prepare the physical therapy/psychology room we were to meet in, and to find Victoria (another volunteer) and make sure she was ready to take pictures. Kaley quickly motioned us to come in, and we sludged in through the mud and rain.
We sat down in the room and Rosa (CDA’s Social Worker and Psychologist) came in first to tell us how it went telling the boys. (They were just to be told that their new family was on the way, not saying who we were. Later that day the boys told us that they had made guesses at what was up when they were told to get ready to leave the house that morning. Marcus said “I think we’re going to meet our new parents”. Angel said “I think we’re going to court!”)
Listening to Tia Rosa as the boys were being brought down from the 3rd floor office
What Rosa told us, as she recounted the boys’ reaction and concerns, was very enlightening. She and Tia Carla (CDA’s psychologist) talked to the boys one by one. Luis Jesus took the news in stride, but both Marcus and Angel were fidgety and nervous. Marcus worriedly asked if these new parents were going to be like the last (a failed adoption early last year). Rosa assured him that these parents were very different. They couldn’t get Angel to say what was bothering him, but they knew their guess was right when he calmed down and the tension seemed to drain out of him once they explained, “Your new family has loved you since you were little, and they have always wanted to adopt you!” (Jake had wondered to himself if this was his son even before meeting him briefly in March last year, just from hearing his story from me!)
While Rosa shared this with us, the boys were being brought down the stairs and I think all the tias in the house had gathered in the door to watch the “first meeting”! It was very surreal for me to finally be the one “meeting” my new children, after watching it happen dozens of times to others! I had a flashback to the moment over 14 years ago when we were waiting for our baby, my new sister, to appear through a door in Russia.
As the door was opened and we saw the three huddled there in nervous anticipation, tears sprang to my eyes. It’s a bit of a blur now, but I think they paused only a second and then eagerly dashed towards us. Jake, the favorite that he is with all of the older kids, was tackled by Angel and Jesus, while I drew Marcus to myself. I asked the boys if they suspected it was us, and Marcus replied yes. He said that he guessed when Tia Carla had said it would be a couple from the US with a daughter, but when he shared his suspicions was told that there are MANY couples in the United States who have a little daughter. He now shared this with a big grin, pleased that he had guessed correctly.
Angel asked almost immediately, “Can we bring the kittens with us??”, a question he has asked me at least 15 times already. Everyone chuckled and we said, “We’ll see… We already have Rusty and we just have an apartment, you know!”
The boys immediately shouted "papi" to Jake!
Tia Silvia brought baby Sophia to us since she had begun to cry
Jesus immediately began calling Sophia his "hermanita" (little sister)
We told the boys we were thinking of taking them out to eat now, but it was still cold and rainy, and at least one of the boys mentioned that they wanted to go to our house and see their new bedroom first. Since it was just 11am, that sounded like the better plan. We left with Carla, the psychologist, and volunteer Kaley.
I loved the ongoing conversation with the boys in the car on the way! They had such good questions. Some that I remember:
Jesus: Are we going to fly in an airplane now? Is it scary? What will our new last names be?Angel: What time are we going to wake up at our new house?
Marcus: Why can’t we sleep there yet? (I had explained that, at this point, the court had just authorized visits, and that they would move in the next week.)
They were definitely still processing the wonder that WE were their new parents! (They have known since the middle of the year that they were to be adopted together.)
Waiting impatiently to enter their new house
When we got to the house they simultaneously raced to their room and looked for Rusty, the famous cat. We still need to make some improvements to their room and finish cleaning it out of other things (like a clothes drying rack), but the boys have only positive things to say about it. I think they’ll have no trouble playing in there for long stretches of time! It’s hard to get them out of there to eat or leave or do anything else.
ATTACK RUSTY!!! (Rusty has taken over one of their beds, but now as Jake predicted, he has abandoned it for safer lodging - namely, under the crib.)
Opening gifts, before we changed out of our court clothes
We gave them their gifts to open—a new set of clothes and a game for each, mostly from my mom. Jesus went to work on building his truck right away.
After a bit, I asked Jake about another plan change and feeding them lunch at home. We had just bought lots of sandwich ingredients, so Kaley and I made hot Monte Cristo’s for everyone.
The first prayer at our table
One of the boys started to eat right away and the others chided him for not waiting for the prayer. Jesus volunteered and prayed a sweet prayer that brought a smile to our faces, thanking God for their new parents.
The picture with them smiling and looking at me turned out blurry...
At the end of the very nice meal, one of the boys wanted to get up and go back to playing, but the others said he needed to say thank you first. (In Bolivian culture, one always say thank you before finishing a meal, and the others at the table reply “provecho”. At the Casas de Amor, we have our own version where each person around the table says “thank you God, thank you aunties, thank you children” in either Spanish or English before being dismissed.) He hesitated, looking at our faces for guidance, and Jake said “You know how you say ‘thank you’ at our house?” The child looked at him attentively and asked, “How?” “Thank you!” (In English) He easily said it and was on his way! The next boy to get up said the Casa de Amor version, but they’ll get it!
While we cleaned up from lunch and continued to answer various questions (for example, Jake brought the cups down lower and showed them how to serve themselves filtered water), the boys got the idea to call CDA II and tell the tias they were with their new family. They knew the number by memory, I just showed them how to dial from our house phone. It was great to watch them announce all wide-eyed and grinning, “Tia, we are with our new parents, and it’s Tio Jake and Tia Jeny!!” They decided that was fun and proceeded to call house 3, house 4 (to talk to their buddy Myles), and Tia Sarin’s cell phone (their other main tia who was off duty that day). All heard the same joyful announcement!
Spreading the news!
After lunch, the boys wanted to play soccer at the covered court across the street from our house. Only… We hadn’t yet bought soccer balls, a gift from Jake’s mom to the boys. But we had basketballs. They were flat however, so we hatched a plan to walk to the nearest "ferreteria” (hardware store) and then go play basketball! It was 1pm, when everything is closed in Bolivia, but the owners live above the shop and attended to us.
Walking back up the hill from the ferreteria
It was still pouring rain! I had the baby held close to me in a sling with a thick blanket and my rain jacket over the top. She must have stayed snug and warm because she slept all afternoon this way!
Pumping up the basketball
We had a great time! Jake played with the three boys for nearly two hours while the baby and I sat on the soggy bleachers nearby watching. Lest it seem like the perfect day (which it very nearly was!), Marcus got mad at Jesus for hogging the ball, and then Jesus slipped on the concrete and hurt his hands falling, and pouted a bit before he would rejoin the play.
As I watched them and laughed at their antics, particularly with the three against Jake in a game (amazing how their smaller size was sometimes to their advantage), I marveled that we can even do this. There was only a brief period in the 1980s when US citizens could adopt Bolivian children, and very few international adoptions even happen these days. But since we live here, we get this great gift of three beautiful children!
We have a wonderful, only slightly leaky, covered court very nearby! Jake bought the nets for me for Christmas last year.
When they all finally tired, we started back to the house. Jake suggested getting ice cream, but the boys were just ready to get back to their new house and bedroom. I was chilled and thought that making hot chocolate would be nicer! I quickly found a recipe online and made it, pouring it up for everyone as they played with their new toys. Jesus spilled a bit on the ground and Marcus asked me how he could clean it up. I told him where there were rags in the kitchen and he immediately ran to get one and clean up the spill.
I thought that was very kind and actually, throughout the day I was very impressed how when one boy would get a little out of line, one or both of the others would remind him of how he should behave—and he would mind them! I was very impressed—and hope it lasts!!
Drinking hot chocolate and chatting and playing
Then the boys decided they wanted to watch a movie, particularly one they had seen on our shelf: “Ninja Turtles”. We explained that to really watch it well, on the wall with our projector (we don’t have a TV), it needed to be dark outside. But they were insistent, and no one wanted them to go home yet, so Jake rigged up blankets and we tightly shut our new blinds, and….. Well, neither of our laptops would spin up any of the movies they wanted. Only the Myth Busters DVD that was already in Jake’s computer would read. I told him that would be fine, and eventually after trying everything, that’s finally what we watched. There was a special double episode on myths related to pirates, with lots of clips from old pirate movies, so it was perfect! Jake and I stretched our Spanish vocabulary to the limits translating what the myth busters were doing, but the boys definitely got the gist and it was lots of fun. The baby was happy to nap in my lap while we watched.
Rudi Booher of CDA IV called and asked if we were having dinner at the boy’s house, because he was going to take pizza over for volunteer Victoria’s farewell, as it was her last night with us. I hadn’t quite decided yet what we were doing. I wasn’t sure if we should see the other boys just yet, now that the news was out that we were adopting 3—but not all 8! Rudi reassured me that he had been over and the boys told him the news, but didn’t seem all hung up on it, so I said yes, count us in!
English lesson: watching "Myth Busters" in English! (Spot the baby? And the special set-up to get the sound to work?)
We finally pulled away from the house at 6:45. As soon as we got to CDA II, I was attacked by bear-hugging children asking “Is it true, tia, is it true? Are you Angel’s mother?!” Interesting that they chose to mention him and not all three. Later at dinner, Daniel told Angel to call me mom. It seemed like he was just testing to see if it was true, but of all the three, Angel had yet to call us mom and dad directly. Now, Angel instead leaned over my lap and cooed to Sophia “hermanita” (little sister), and Daniel dropped it.
Edgar (a big buddy of our 3 but not adoptable) wasn’t doing as well. He clung sadly to Jake the whole evening and barely said a word. When I went off with Victoria for her debriefing meeting, I realized that they had a strong tie, so it was a doubly bad day for Edgar.
We stayed until nearly 9 and finally left, promising the boys we’d see them the next day for soccer practice.
Jake and I were prepared for this whole experience to be a lot of work and a big challenge. Well, this first day was VERY REWARDING!! I feel like I’m totally sold on adopting older kids, although we realize that a huge factor here, different from most international adoptions, is that we already knew the boys. To adopt a 10 year old boy that we didn’t know would be scary. And the reverse is true—the boys seem very relieved that they already know us. And I imagine it’s pretty nice to be staying together! Now I can’t imagine the three being separated. (But please pray for Edgar, as he adjusts to being the oldest alone at CDA II!)
I’ll try to post about our next two days of “official” visits soon, in between spending lots of time with the boys this weekend!