A Journey of Thanksgiving: Meeting my son for the first time

an open door leading into the creche (orphanage)

In honor of our third anniversary as a family this November, I offer this reflection again. This was the first of four trips I made to Haiti during our adoption process. When I look at my now lanky, soon-to-be six-year-old son, I marvel at the mystery of the divine and the myriad ways in which grace brings who and what we need into our lives.

Nou kontan anpil ke n te la,” I said after we ducked under the flowering branch and walked in the front door of the crèche. We are very happy to be here. I could not stop smiling. Our first day in Haiti had already gone smoothly through customs and baggage claim and into the hands of Roberto’s skilled driving. After ten hours of travel, we were finally there: Fondation Enfant Jesus (FEJ). Kenscoff. The mountains. And my eighteen-month-old son-to-be.

Madame Duleau welcomed us in. She smiled warmly at my attempted Kreyol and my friend Karin’s handy French translations. She quickly led us through the dimly lit hallway and into the baby room. His crib was the first on the left. I knelt down beside him, not wanting to startle or overwhelm him, and touched his fingers wrapped around the blue rail. I whispered his name.

Ou tre presie,” I cooed once he was placed in my arms. You are very precious. I swayed back and forth, rubbing his back in tiny circles and praying for him, for me, for his manman and papa.

I soon learned how happy he was. The aunties and nurses —Yvrose and FiFi, Josephe and others—liked to tickle. He giggled. And I laughed. He said “la, ba, la” in perfect toddler-speak and delighted in throwing balls, stacking cups, and anything we put in his hands or he could grab. I watched him take a few steps on his own and then held his hands as we did laps around the baby room. On the day we went to the embassy together, I proudly reported back the number of steps he’d taken and the two bottles he’d gulped down. Yvrose smiled in approval.

Most days our routine was the same. In the morning, we played with all the little ones, my son included. In the early afternoon, we joined the older children, singing the ABCs, pushing swings, and playing ball. Karin brought a set of jacks, and even the adults joined in. During nap time, we hiked along the mountain trails, basking in the vistas and breathing in the fresh air. Karin and I snapped picture after picture of the elegant pine trees and calla lilies, succulent plants living in between rocks and crops carved into the hillside. Ayiti se bel. Haiti is beautiful.

In the evening, after our final romp with the little ones, we rode up the hill and dined with Gina and Lucien Duncan, the founders of FEJ, and their family. Red snapper, a first for me. Se bon. Fried fish balls and baked chicken. Se bon. Red beans and rice. Black beans and rice. Sweet vegetable casserole made from Ayiti’s bounty. Se bon. Our conversations were easy and engaging, like old friends sitting around the table catching up on the latest news. The hardest part for me was not being able to sleep through the night.

In those sleepless hours, I replayed the moment closest to my heart. It was our first morning in the baby room. Yvrose had spent time with us, showing off all that my little one could do and teaching us more Kreyol. He was on the floor crawling, and for reasons I did not know or readily understand, he suddenly stopped and started to cry. I wanted to reach for him, but I had two of his friends on my lap. We were very intentional about playing with all the children. Yvrose walked over, squatted down beside him, and wrapped her arms around him. He hugged her tight.

Li renmen ou,” I said smiling. He loves you.

Wi, mwen renmen li anpil.” She said. Yes, I love him very much.

I could not have been happier. He was one beautiful, happy, and loved little boy. That was all I had asked of God: that he knew love.

On the last morning, when it came time to say goodbye, I thanked Madame Duleau and all the women who lovingly care for such beautiful children. I thanked Madame Watson for the hot tea at breakfast and the lunches she prepared for us. And then I kissed Yvrose on both cheeks as she was feeding my son porridge. Fearful of scaring him and making my departure more confusing than it already was, I leaned in and kissed him tenderly on his forehead.

Manje,” I said in unison with her. Eat.

Then I ducked out of the room as quietly as I came in, and walked up the hill toward the truck where Roberto was waiting to take us to the airport. It would be five months before I would visit again, and seventeen more months before we’d start our grand adventure as a family in Chicago. But I didn’t know any of that then. All I knew was that we belonged to each other.

As the truck lumbered up the hill, I looked back at the crèche and the room where my little one was eating. I thought about the grace that followed through our days and all the people who had already touched both of our lives: from Madame Duleau to Yvrose, FiFi to Sonita, Patrick to Lucien, and Gina to Stephanie. Nou se yon fanmi. We are one family.