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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 nowjust 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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42 Comments

Hello Sharon,

As a parent waiting to adopt, I found your topic to be very interesting.  I’ve only recently heard the term “Gotcha Day” and how that day was celebrated by some parents.

It does give me something to think about.  In my heart, I believe that this day will always be significant for me and my husband. We have yet to know how significant it will be to our baby.  I think that’s going to be the deciding force.

My biggest concern is that as the child gets bigger and birthday’s become more important, will we forget to celebrate Gotcha Day and what will that mean to our child.  In the hussle and bussle of life, I’m afraid this day will take a back seat to other special days.

Or maybe this will be a day that is remembered within our family only and acknowledged by us only with a big hug and a warm kiss and a “I am so lucky to be your momma”.

Food for thought…

Emma

By Emma on Wednesday, March 02, 2011 at 8:06 pm.

We just celebrated our sixth “gotcha day,” although we call it “Gregory day” in our house.  It’s a celebration we have every year that is special for just our boy to remember that we went halfway around the world to find him and bring him home. It’s a time for us to remember how amazing that trip was and the joy we had that day.  I’m no expert, but I think it’s a good attachment tool for our son to be reminded of how important we think he is, that we chose him and love him and went to great lengths to make him our son.  We usually have some special family day event that day,  like a picnic. This year, I took him miniature golfing because his papa had to work.  Maybe because he came home at 2.5 we don’t have the same attitude, but anytime we can make him feel that he is important, we do.  He has enough to overcome in the world without thinking his family has forgotten when they got him.

By califmom on Wednesday, March 02, 2011 at 10:35 pm.

Emma and Califmom, thanks for reading. So much can’t fit into a single blog post…My Indian daughter and my Ethiopian children, who are bio siblings, by chance all arrived home in February, though in different years. There’s a lot of “hustle and bustle” that Emma refers to in our house. I’ve tried in the past to arrange a special “Family Day” in February but it doesn’t always happen on schedule, and with time it truly has faded in importance because we’re making family memories, not Family Day memories. Califmom, it sound like you’ve found the best approach for your son and I’m sure he loves Gregory Day! Making a child feel special is so important, and I like to think we’re doing a good job with it, in our own style.

By Sharon Van Epps on Wednesday, March 02, 2011 at 11:16 pm.

Sharon, we’re still waiting to bring Dylan home and so I don’t have anything enlightening to add to the conversation. I just wanted to let you know that this post really spoke to me and that I’m beginning to get a clear idea of the kind of adoptive parent I’d like to be and you have definitely contributed to that, in this post and many others. Thanks!

By Meghan on Friday, March 04, 2011 at 4:36 am.

Hi Sharon,

I loved your post.  I also do not celebrate Gotcha Day, and my son does not know the term either.  I adopted him domestically when he was 8 weeks old.  He is now almost 8 years old.  Initially I did not feel very strongly about celebrating or not celebrating the day, but as he is growing up I have started to feel strongly about it. 

Adopting him was one of the best things I have ever done, and it has made me happier than I even expected to be his mother.  But I also know that his being adopted may be at times difficult for him and associated with all kinds of feelings that are not just happy.  I want to allow for those feelings. Celebrating Gotcha Day could create some pressure on him to be happy about it, and may make it more difficult for him to have and express other feelings about being adopted.  So we celebrate his birthday, that is a day we can both be simply happy about! 

Of course these celebrations can mean different things to different families.  It may be very meaningful for others.

Els

By EJH on Friday, March 04, 2011 at 7:53 pm.

We do not celebrate Gotha Day either. My first daughter we received one week after her first birthday. We celebrate her birthday. I have told her that today is the day we first met you and you were handed to us. She is now 9.
My second daughter we received the day after her first birthday. We only celebrate her birthday too. She is 2.5 and a little too young to understand.
I didn’t see the need to celebrate “Gotha” I never liked the term, sounds like you are catching a ball. But instead I say our anniversary for meeting you.

By best mom of 2 on Saturday, March 05, 2011 at 3:42 pm.

We do celebrate “gotcha” day, or “forever family” day or, as we like to call it, our “Manuversary!”

I think you’re right, in that this day wasn’t the beginning of the story for any of us, and we don’t lose sight of that fact. But we feel it is the beginning of “our” story together, and as such is worth celebrating, which up to this point has included a nice Indian meal and viewing home videos taken of our trip and our first days home.

By Jeff on Saturday, March 05, 2011 at 4:17 pm.

Yes, Yes, Yes we celebrate it!! We bring all of our close family and friends together to just celebrate adoption. Its a nice dinner and get together just to be thankful for adoption in general! It’s amazing every year our celebration gets bigger! We love it and look forward to it! This year we are doing something a little bit different! Head over to our blog to check it out smile http://smalltownok.wordpress.com/2011/03/03/what-does-adoption-mean-to-me/

By MandyJoCampbell on Saturday, March 05, 2011 at 8:03 pm.

We do celebrate Gotcha Day!  And in a big way.  Our daughter was 3-1/2 and remembers Mommy and Daddy coming for her in her native land.  It was for her like taking her out of a black and white world and putting her into a techno color world of plenty.  She is the sweetest.. most appreciative child you could ever meet.  She wants for nothing and she “gets it”. 
I am involved in several projects helping orphans in her region Eastern Europe and in her country and baby house specifically.  Helping the children we left behind.  This is a life time commitment for our family and her roots are extremely important to us.  Celebrating Gotcha day is an anniversary of our family unit.  We are proud of the fact that our daughter is adopted.  Adoption is in my opinion the most amazing way to build a family.  You need to embrace it.. be proud of it.  It will not become an issue unless you make it one. 
When I hear that someone is not celebrating Gotcha Day Whether it be a simple cupcake or a trip to Disney?  I have to wonder if the parents themselves feel as if they have to hide the facts from society or their child.  That to me is extremely sad for all :o(
The way I see it is we have two choices.  Try and down play the importance of their life experience which will come back to bite us as our children will end up in therapy sessions.  Or embrace their differences whether they be cultural, racial or economic.  Grow with our children.  Arm them with self esteem and they will be able to work through just about any situation that arises.  By the way.. This year we will be celebrating our 3rd Gotta Day in Orlando swimming with the Dolphins.  Something that we will all remember for the rest of our lives.

By Mommy2Tamara on Saturday, March 05, 2011 at 8:14 pm.

We celebrate the first day we met our then 8 year old daughter overseas with a dinner to the restaurant of her choice.  We don’t call it “Gotcha Day” but refer to it as a “Family Day”.  We emphasize how happy we were to have her join our family that already included older bio-children.  Throughout the year we talk about her earlier years and her birth family (who are unknown). We are aware of her strength of character that helped her to survive abandonment at age 4, then 4 years of several foster placements, and her move to a foreign country.  Each year we see changes in her mood prior to that day so we know she is dealing with feelings and thoughts that need to be expressed and acknowledged.  I think she needs to feel the happiness and joy that she brings to our family on a day that is so special to us as a family.  It celebrates her specialness in our family.  She loves this attention.  Maybe their are children who do not seek this type of attention and who do not want a celebration or reminder of their adoption.

By AJMama on Saturday, March 05, 2011 at 10:42 pm.
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Meet the Author

Sharon Van Epps

Sharon Van Epps

Washington

I have recently adopted or am adopting from...
Ethiopia, India

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