A day of blessings

I know that many of my readers are adoptive parents, deeply interested in the types of issues we are facing on this homeland trip for my sons.  When I asked my 11 year old son if I could blog about Friday’s happenings, he unhesitatingly and happily said yes.  Since he tends to be a fairly private kid, I felt confident about his comfort level with this.  Yet I wonder if years down the road he might not want every detail of his story out there. And so I am giving you a somewhat abridged version of this day in his life, trusting that you will understand the need to leave some questions unanswered.  The day was so central to our reason for being here, and so filled with blessing, that it felt like not talking about it would be skipping the high point of the story of our trip.

Friday we were blessed to meet both with our youngest son’s foster mother and with his birth family.  We approached the day with some trepidation. That morning was the first day I navigated the subway on my own this trip, so I was a little worried about getting to our meeting in time.  But all went smoothly, and when we arrived, his foster mom was already waiting.  She hardly looked any different from 9 years earlier– can you believe she is in her mid-50’s??– and she greeted Ben with warmth and kindness.

We talked about what he’d been like as a baby, what she remembered about him, and what she has been doing since then.  She said he was a handsome boy and looked very pleased to see him again.  He is one of the oldest of her foster kids she’s met. She was able to visit the US last year and meet some of the others.   She gave him a taekwondo uniform, since her son is a taekwondo master, and she was pleased with the photo album of pictures that we brought her.  All in all it was a very nice meeting.

We had about an hour between the two meetings, and during that time we were invited to go cuddle the babies currently living at the baby house.  My boys could hardly get past the fact that we were all asked to wear pink bathrobes, but I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to cuddle some adorable little ones.  (John, can we have just one more??  🙂 Isn’t she cute??? )

After we got our fill of baby-cuddling the boys managed to tear me away from the babies, we headed back for the office where we were to meet Ben’s family. Though we were early, we were told they had already arrived. As we prepared to step into the room, my chest was tight, hoping that this would turn out to be a good thing for my boy.

As soon as we walked into the room, his mother was immediately standing, crying, embracing him, stroking his hair, touching his face. His dad stood back, face stern, tears welling, letting his wife greet their son first. The mother’s grief was so great that I was instantly in tears as well, patting her back and telling her thank you over and over and wishing I had more Korean words with which to express my gratitude.

The social worker guided everyone to sit, and it was then that Ben’s dad sat down in front of him, knee to knee, holding both of his hands and speaking earnestly. Ben looked at me helplessly. He could see his dad was saying something important but couldn’t understand. We looked to the social worker, who jumped in to translate as the father apologized and shared more fully the reasons they were not able to parent him.

I knew that they had good reasons, and had told Ben for years that they had his best interests at heart. But seeing the emotion on their faces, and they way they stroked his cheek and smoothed his hair and examined his hands and sought out his eyes made their feeling and intent so much more clear.

Ben was extremely shy at first– his father told him that shyness runs in the family– but answered their questions with a little coaxing from me. They were concerned about his health.  I was quick to assure them that his prosthetic leg allows him to do anything that any other child can do.

After a bit of talking, we gathered our things and went to a restaurant for lunch, where we had a private room complete with grills on the tables for grilling the bulgogi that was ordered for us. All through the meal, his parents were filling his plate with choice morsels and encouraging him to eat and stroking his hair and studying his face.

His mother has a glowingly brilliant smile that often sparkled with tears. (I wish I could share pictures but I think I will wait to get their permission). I got the impression she was soaking up these moments as priceless treasures. His father was more somber, his sadness closer to the surface. Yet there were delightful flashes of humor that reminded me so much of our son.  Over and over again he reached out with warmth to Ben, talking to him, telling him how he resembled their family, or explaining where he might have gotten some trait that they noticed.

By the end of the dinner, Ben was getting comfortable, joking and smiling more. I was so happy they were starting to see more of his true self. As the dinner wound down, it was obvious no one wanted to say goodbye. The family asked if they could take us out for coffee. And so we walked to another place close by, again to a little private space in a corner, and talked for another hour or so.

Finally the social worker gently suggested it was time to go. (We were going to a baseball game at 5, and the family had a three hour train ride back home.) We walked to the subway together, Ben walking alongside his dad with his dad’s arm over his shoulders. Ben was peaceful, content — relieved I think that these strangers had turned out to be people of great kindness. But my heart ached hard for what the family must be feeling, getting ready to say goodbye to their boy again.

Before saying goodbye we took more pictures, exchanged email addresses, and agreed to try to come to Korea again in 5 years so that they could see Ben again. John and I had been hoping we could do this even before this trip– John wants to come along next time. But after meeting the family, we feel even more strongly about visiting again.

Goodbyes were quietly tearful and put off for as long as possible, with many hugs, and his first mom and I taking turns telling each other thank you. As the boys and I walked away, they watched tearfully, and I knew part of my heart was back there with them.

The boys felt the sadness less than I. They chattered about how nice the family had been and how much fun it had been to meet with them. There was a lightness to Ben’s face that hadn’t been there in the day or two before the meeting– I think he’d really been worried about that meeting.  I could tell he was really glad to have the experience, and I think it was in a way helpful to our other Korean son as well. Even though he is not going to get to meet his first family on this trip, seeing the kindness of Ben’s family helped him guess or imagine more about the kind of people his family might possibly be.

I think some people might wonder about the wisdom of letting a child meet his birth family. What kind of emotions might that stir up? Are we borrowing trouble? Those thoughts definitely went through my mind beforehand. But the day after the meeting the boys soundly dispelled any doubts that might have lingered in my mind. In the middle of a long subway ride, I was chatting with the boys and asked them to choose their favorite part of the trip so far. Both of them quickly said that the very best part of the whole trip was meeting Ben’s family.

I would have to agree.

Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

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  1. [sob] I’m so glad it went like that. For everyone’s sake.

  2. Congratulations to your sons and you…I think you absolutely did the right, beautiful thing for your children and their Korean family. I hope I can do the same for my son.

  3. Ben and Mary,
    Thanks for sharing,
    Jenny

  4. Wow, what an incredible experience. How my heart breaks reading it. I don’t know if this is at all an appropriate question so please ignore it if I’m overstepping here, but I’m wondering what sort of reasons would cause a family to give up a child?
    I’m so glad you got to share this experience. Thanks for telling us about it too.

  5. Mary- Clearly I am reading your blog backwards (sorry!). While we did not meet our daughter’s birth family, finding (and I mean literally FINDING…we had to set out in our daughter’s birth city armed with nothing more than an old photo, a name and a translation of what/who we were looking for which we had translated on bablefish) our daughter’s foster family was, well…I don’t think there are really any words for it. I blogged about it (naturally!). You can read about it/see the photos on my blog under the archives in November 2008. Again, thank you SO MUCH for sharing this.

  6. I know that I’m really late to this party but this really touched me. I’m not adopted, nor do we have any adoption in our family so I have nothing personal to draw upon here. What a beautiful story. I know that you left out details on purpose but my goodness! I’d love to hear the whole story. Ben is a lucky boy, indeed, to have such loving and caring parents on 2 continents.

  7. incredibly moving. what a blessing.

  8. I just found you via 5 Minutes for Mom. I’m mom of two adopted from Ukraine. I will be back to read more.

  9. Oh Mary – I have been trying to catch up on your blog this evening and came across this amazing story. We have a meeting like this ahead of us- well, more than one! Thank you for sharing. The tears are streaming down my cheeks.

  10. Okay, I am feeling very teary eyed after that beautiful story.

  11. (After going through three tissues…)
    Thank you for sharing your story. We were blessed to have met our daughter’s first family when we adopted her, and I think often about how our meeting will go again when she’s old enough to make her first homeland journey.