The Day We Became a Family

Each January I bake a special cake to commemorate our family's beginning. Twelve years ago this January, my husband and I walked across the threshold of a Colombian orphanage and entered the world of international adoption.

Waiting is a principal character in any adoption drama. Our wait was shortened; we offered to accept an older sibling group. We also mentioned that we could speak a little Spanish.

A little over a year later, we left our Michigan fruit farm and stood in the director's office of an orphanage in Colombia.

We squirmed in our seats and knew that this moment would change our lives forever. We scanned the pinched faces of the children clustered about the doorway. Would our sons resemble them?

"Yo tambien," they pleaded.

While our hearts said, "Yes, you may come, too," the visas and paperwork only offered passage for our two sons.

Footsteps clicked down the hall. The director and a worker parted the flock of children. The worker held the hand of one of our soon-to-be sons. Although he was four years old, Mateo was the size of the average two-year-old. The director carried a scrawny 20-month-old toddler. Mateo was placed on my husband's lap while Carlos rested in my arms. We all stared at each other.

The appearance of the brothers confirmed our concerns that the children would be malnourished. The barrios we had seen on our drive through the city flitted through my mind. What had their pre-orphanage days been like, living on the streets of those slums?

The anguish of abandonment spilled from Mateo's eyes. Though his biological mother had placed them in the state's care more than a year before, his emotional wounds still seemed raw.

Anxiety tumbled about inside me. Would we ever be able to help heal these two shattered lives? We said our farewells to the staff and, trying to ignore the pleas of the other children, carried our sons away from their birth country and flew to their new home.

When we landed in Michigan, our two tearful boys were greeted by ice and snow. And while our farm and the language were unfamiliar, there was one thing they understood: food.

For weeks, Carlos tottered about clutching his "security bread." When one slice was gone, he'd demand more "pan, pan!" I pulled dozens of loaves from my oven, along with bubbling casseroles large enough to feed several men. Jar after jar of canned fruit was opened to satisfy their amazing appetites.

Within three months, Carlos had outgrown two pairs of shoes. Both boys developed rosy cheeks, and Mateo's eyes began to sparkle with renewed innocence.

TWELVE years later, no physical traces of those impoverished days remain as our manly sons hop on and off tractors or wield axes to split firewood. Although they tease us by referring to themselves as "the indentured servants you flew in from South America," they cheerfully work at our sides, hefting crates of apples and stacking bales of hay.

But lest any cobwebs of abandonment linger in their minds, we remind them often that, like the fruit trees we will plant this spring, they were grafted onto our hearts. Like the scions of different apple varieties that were budded onto sturdy rootstock, they have been grafted into this family whose roots reach deep into Michigan soil. Our sons' personalities and perspectives enrich and diversify our lives, just as each variety enhances the nature of an orchard.

So we celebrate these past 12 years with our special cake, and look forward to the memories we will harvest in the future.

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