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Adoption Blog: Be Bold or Go Home
Why Our Family Doesn’t Celebrate Gotcha Day
Our family has never celebrated Gotcha Day; in fact, my kids have never even heard of the (sometimes controversial) term. This wasn’t a reasoned decision on my part but an intuitive one. Sometimes I feel a little slacker-mom guilt when I hear about other adoptive families marking their child’s homecoming anniversary with cupcakes, presents, or trips to Disney—and I'm happy for those families for whom those celebrations are meaningful and cherished traditions—but every now and then something happens that makes me feel that my instincts were right for our family.
For example, my 9-year-old daughter, Didi, adopted from India, came home from school out of sorts on a recent afternoon. I sent my son, Gobez, adopted from Ethiopia, and younger daughter, Lemlem, adopted from Ethiopia, outside to shoot baskets while I pulled my oldest aside for a private talk.
“Did something upset you today?” I asked.
“Mom, how long have I been here?” she shot back. “Four years?”
“Yes,” I said, realizing with surprise that it was almost four years to the day since we flew home together from India—one brave but anxious 5-year-old and her happy but nervous new mom.
“Being here still feels new,” she said, her tone leaning toward accusatory. She gave me that look I’ve come to know so well, an intense expression of mingled hope and frustration that says, I really need you to fix this, Mom. She’s still young enough to overestimate my fix-it capacities.
“I’m sure it does feel new, honey," I said. "You lived in India longer than you’ve lived with us. Things may always feel a little new every once in a while, even after you’ve been here a long, long time.”
The story of what happened that day started to pour out then. Didi had been talking with a couple of classmates who’d only recently come to the U.S. with their families. “Katarina had to leave her country because there was a war,” she said, her face tensed. “And Jon had to leave Norway because his dad got a job here. Jon didn't want to come.”
I could just picture Didi and her third-grade classmates huddled together in a corner of the playground, awkwardly discussing the pain of their immigrant experiences, and I thought, She’s growing up and away from me, looking to her friends for support now … just like she’s supposed to.
“I’m glad you’ve met people who understand what it feels like to move to a new country,” I said. “We all need friends we can talk to about our lives.”
Simply describing what had happened and having her feelings acknowledged seemed to lighten Didi’s mood instantly. We wrapped up our conversation, and she skipped outside to join the basketball game leaving me thinking about how far we've come together and how far we have yet to go.
No matter what the age at placement, every adopted child joins her new family bearing a personal history, but children like mine, who were older at adoption, arrive with a cache of formative memories and life experiences. I want my children to know and trust that I treasure the memories they've shared with me, and that I honor the lives they lived before.
Gotcha Day wasn't the beginning of the story for any of us. Although the memories of our early days together are precious, they're only a small part of the whole. We've grown so much closer with the passage of time.
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