Thursday, June 28, 2007

Love Thursday: Love of Life in the U.S.A.

Kyle On Our Deck, First Week of July 2005
(photos below taken the same day)

Before Kyle and Owen the Fourth of July never meant much to me. I have never been a "patriotic" person. My critical stance on social-political life began very early on. I can remember as a teenager being aware that my constant critique of the social world easily frustrated people. I'd often get strong reactions (not usually positive) when I'd voice my opinions about all the things I was worried about: sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, capitalism, apathy, unequal education, blurred Church-State, anti-abortion, child abuse & neglect, lack of social services, structural inequality, etc., etc., etc. (the list was/is endless). People often made it quite clear to me that they thought I should be less "cynical" about, and more "grateful" for, life as we know it in the contemporary United States. I learned to keep quiet. And I quietly went and got a PhD in sociology, focusing on inequality in the contemporary United States, and reading a lot of Marx, etc. along the way. I travelled around the world a little bit -- I saw enough of the world to know that I was truly fortunate to live in the U.S.A. But still I was much more critical than not. It still upset people when I spoke my mind about it. Luckily for my mental health I found a soul-mate who sees eye-to-eye with me on almost everything. Braydon and I made a quiet life for ourselves and created a refuge for each other. And we always knew we'd adopt. Yes, this is part of our radical politics. No, my children aren't "symbols" -- they are the loves of my life, the heart and soul of my world, the center of my entire universe (anyone who reads this blog surely can see how much I fiercely love them). But Braydon and I did have to come to grips early on in our adoption process with a lot of stuff -- perhaps the most complex and difficult was the notion that what we were doing was, indeed, one way that we live out our politics. It was a radical act, a way to share our privilege, a way to do something concretely good in a world we often felt so bad about. Adopting from Haiti was that for us. We know in our hearts, minds, souls that we were adopting for all the right reasons... one of those reasons had to do with our social-political beliefs. We had to learn to come to terms with that, and we did. Sort of. Braydon was more at ease with it than I was. I was always unsettled about it to a certain extent. I worried that people would think that we adopted the children that we did in order to "make a statement" (people have even overtly said things to that effect to me). I worried that as white parents we'd be unable to raise black boys well enough. I worried what people would think. But I felt inside myself that this was what I was meant to do, and Braydon was sure of it too, so we moved on through the process.

There was a precise moment in time when all of my internal angst and conflict over this public/private~~political/personal adoption-related-stuff finally all melted away. I remember the moment as if it has been carved in stone in my life history. We were bringing Kyle and Owen home. We were going through immigration in the Miami airport. I was already emotional because of everything we were going through. Just minutes before I had sat in an airplane crying tears of joy as we landed. I had never wept upon landing before. But the emotions overtook me-- I was holding Kyle, this precious tiny baby, with his twin brother on Braydon's lap further back in the plane. We were bringing them home on immigration visas that were supposed to make them American citizens upon hitting U.S. soil. As the plane started to go downward I pulled Kyle close. As we landed I remember saying to him "You're my baby, you're in the United States now, we're going to a doctor tomorrow, everything is o.k., you are here now, everything is o.k., welcome to America baby, welcome to America." He was 8 months old and had only heard English for the past week (from us, in Haiti), so he obviously didn't understand me. But the Haitian man sitting next to me did speak English, and did understand me, and I remember the look in his eyes. These emotions were intense for me, and still lingering, as we waited in a special immigration room deep inside the Miami airport. The immigration officials knew we were coming. They had found us in the crowd and pulled us out from the masses and taken us aside. They took us into a room and treated us like we were very, very, very special. I'll never forget the feeling. A man took our sealed yellow envelopes -- one for each baby -- and went behind a bullet proof window to open them and "process Kyle Macon Johnson-McCormick and Owen Badio Johnson-McCormick." The "process" was to make it official. They were becoming U.S. citizens right then and there. I can't articulate the feelings. Braydon and I just kept looking at each other wondering out loud: "Is this really happening???" The boys were oblivious. There was only one other person in the room. He was Haitian and had been on the same plane as us. I have no idea why he was there. He was distinguished looking, dressed in a fine suit, extremely clean cut. He seemed to know what was going on. I remember distinctly seeing the glass door open, and the immigration official walk right up to Braydon with a huge smile on his face. I watched from just a couple feet away. Braydon, who was very pale from nerves and emotional overload, held Owen in his arms. The man handed Braydon some papers and then looked at Owen. He said, "Welcome! You are the newest American citizen." Braydon said, "Oh my god, everything is o.k.? It is all done?" The man shook Braydon's hand firmly and said: "Yes, congratulations Mr. McCormick." He then turned to me and Kyle and welcomed my little Haitian-American to the United States. I shook the immigration official's hand and said thank you. Braydon said to him, "So, we can go?" And the man said, "Yes! You're free to go! You can just walk right out of here! Congratulations!" Before we knew it the man disappeared back behind the glass. We were left standing with two babies and two Haitian passports. We had to see for ourselves. We opened the passports to look at the immigration visas. Yes, they were stamped. The stamps looked very official. It was done. We hugged. I remember saying to Braydon, "Oh my god, look what we've done?!" And I remember him kissing Owen's head and saying to me, "I know, I know, I know." We cried a tiny bit. We were so alone in that room. Except there was that Haitian man, still there, calmly watching the whole thing. We started to collect our things to leave. The man came over. He touched Owen's head, and then Kyle's head. He looked at our babies and with a kind and strong and confident voice he said: "You are two very lucky little boys. You will do great things." He then bowed his head down and said these words to Braydon and I. These words we will never forget: "Thank you. Thank you for what you have done. You have done something incredible here. I am awed by what you have done. I would like to say thank you. On behalf of the Haitian people: thank you." We stood there dumbstruck. It was all so surreal. We muttered something like, "Well, thanks, but we're the lucky ones..." and then the moment was gone. It was in that moment, when that man said those words, that all of my intellectualized angst just melted away. I have never questioned myself since. I am comfortable with what we have done and I am proud of what we have done. That kind man in the Miami airport -- whoever he was? for whatever reason he was there? -- he allowed me to be at ease with this one aspect of our adoption: the notion of living out my radical politics in this very personal way. I truly believe that if it is in your heart to adopt a child then you should. However, now, I am much more aware of how much the social structure can help or hinder that. It is not just a personal decision. In so many ways, and on so many levels, it is an intensely social-political decision both on the part of the adoptive parents and the "system" in which they are situated. I am deeply grateful for the fact that Braydon and I live in the country that we do. I will never take the opportunities that we have here for granted. I am still gravely concerned about all the same things I've always been... and I also now have a new-found perspective on life in the U.S.A. We are a family of four, two of us are immigrants. And the Fourth of July means a lot to me now. Over the next week we'll be celebrating the Fourth of July with my parents who will be visiting. Finally, I can honestly say that in at least two ways I am proud to be an American. And those two ways are very significant. Kyle. And Owen.


Sara said...

I am a lurker that found your blog through a blog linking chain that I cannot even remember now.

I would like to say that I physically had chills when I read the words of the man in the immigration office. What a powerful statement!

Mayhem said...

Thanks for sharing that story.

The baby pictures are just priceless! Holy cow, have those boys grown!

I love their names. The middle names sound Haitian to me, but I'm not sure. Can you tell us (or just me!) sometime about choosing their names?

Heather said...

Amanda - Thanks re: the names. We love the names too! After a TON of thought we chose "Kyle" and "Owen" because we liked those names and they just somehow seemed to *fit*. Owen's middle name --BADIO-- is their birthmother's last name. Kyle's middle name --MACON-- is their birthfather's last name. Thanks for asking. :)
Heather said...

Hether, I too had chills reading your story. The comment the man in immigration said was haunting. Your boys have so many options at their little fingers for true greatness thanks to you and Brandon.

I think you and I would be friends(great friends) if we lived in the same town. Although your writing is far better than mine we speak the same language. On everything. Thank you for sharing a part of you.


Leslie said...

That was beautiful Heather. I could picture you all going through this with your boys and that overwhelming sense of emotion about touching down as American citizens, and the powerful moment with the Haitian man who blessed you and your boys at that moment. Thank you for sharing it!