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“Some children and adults hold dates close to their heart and experience a range of emotions tied to each one. Others prefer to forget dates that mark a period of heartache in their lives in an effort to avoid the rush of emotions when those ‘anniversaries’ draw near. It’s this concept that has created such deep rooted controversy around celebrating a child’s adoption day anniversary.
I’m profoundly good at forgetting dates, even those that mark moments of extreme joy in my life, like my wedding day for example. I can never remember if it’s the 12th of April or the 14th, and my husband will never let me live that down. Whether I remember dates or not, I wouldn’t have one to attach to my own adoption, mainly because my grandparents never finalized it. I’ve yet to meet anyone who celebrated legal guardianship day, thus the concept of an adoption day celebration never occurred to me until I was older and researching adoption from the eyes of a birth mother.
It was the first time I realized that although my birth daughter left the hospital with the family I had chosen, her official adoption likely wasn’t until months later… but the agency’s willful neglect of my understanding of the process is another story for another day. I saw a term circulating that, for lack of a better word, felt kind of yucky.
I see the heart behind it. Adoptive parents who are overjoyed to be growing their family, ‘We finally gotcha!’ But man, oh man, that phrase seems to really undermine the weight of the day. A putting together and a taking apart. A growth and a loss. A jubilee and a heartache. It would be years later before I was truly confronted and forced to choose how to navigate this topic.
Our daughter was nearly 5 when we sat in the judge’s chambers and finalized her adoption. She remembers the day. She remembers the judge. She remembers the location. She remembers, but she doesn’t understand, or at least she didn’t then. ‘Why do we have to go to a judge for me to be adopted?’ We were all she had ever known. We were home.
Luckily, she has such a strong personality that she was more eager than afraid. Eager to walk through the metal detectors, eager to see the judge enter the courtroom, eager to be called back to his chambers, eager to get the ‘boring’ talk over with. Eager for dinner. She said everything on her mind, no different than any other day, but this time she had a captivated audience outside of dad, mama, and sis.
I can’t imagine anyone there that day will ever forget the four year old who asked for the judge’s phone number after he ‘ordered’ us to take her out to dinner, anywhere she picked. ‘Well, can I pwease have you phone numba jus in case dey don’t so I can caw you?’ The judge shot Casey a knowing grin, ‘You got your hands full with this one.’ ‘Yes… we know.’
And so we celebrated the day by taking our youngest to her all time favorite restaurant, Taco Bell, but we never said ‘gotcha.’
Over the next year, we discussed her story, her birth parents, and her adoption day. She asked questions, and when she didn’t, we intentionally created comfortable conversation. As an adoptee and birth mom raised to ‘keep my family problems to myself,’ I knew how invaluable open and honest communication would be.
‘When is my adoption day?’
‘Your adoption was one day, we don’t have to go back and do it again.’
‘Can I at weast eat Taco Bell again?’
She wanted a reason to celebrate, so we had a talk. I explained some people like to celebrate their adoption day anniversary every year and some people don’t. Then I asked what she would like to do? Taco Bell was no longer the baseline, she wanted a huge party and, of course, a table full of tacos and cake.
When the girls were young, we threw huge birthday parties, but our kiddo suddenly became more interested in celebrating her adoption anniversary than her birthday. It wasn’t a time of gift giving or fanfare, but to her it was something that stood out and she liked that. Everyone had a birthday, but she didn’t know anyone who had an adoption day, and I think that was enough to seal the deal.
After a couple years of confusion over her announcing her ‘adoption day’ to anyone who would listen, we had another talk. ‘Adoption day was one day, but now we remember the anniversary every year. Some people call it ‘Gotcha Day’ but you can choose what we call it.’ She didn’t like the term ‘gotcha day’ either, but I didn’t poke around and ask why. After a few silly suggestions, she decided calling it her adoption day anniversary was a good fit, and that’s exactly what we’ve called it ever since.
Despite the controversy over using these days steeped in both loss and love as a day to celebrate, at the end of the day, it’s her choice. It’s her story and it’s her journey to decide how she wants to process it. We will not ask our daughter to celebrate when she feels the pangs of grief, nor will we tell her to grieve when she feels like dancing. There is time and space for both.
March 31st, 2022 will mark 5 years since the day we stood before the judge. Our then, almost 5-year-old, is now almost 10 and just as quick witted as ever. She still chooses to celebrate. She still expresses feelings of sadness about the loss that came from being adopted. We will always hold space for both. This day is important to her and we honor that.
This year, there was speculation her dad would be out of town for work on that day, and it immediately brought a flood of emotions. Fortunately, God must have heard the pleas of a heartbroken little girl and allowed his schedule to shift. We will tell her the story of her adoption day for the 500th time. I’ll cook her dinner of choice, like I do every year, and bake a dessert like I always have. We will acknowledge how much her late birth father loved her, how much her birth mom loves her, and how much we love her. We will play her favorite music, probably a country playlist, and dance, because this year she chooses to celebrate.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Raquel McCloud. Follow her family journey on Instagram here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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