Lea Wait, here. And I have nothing against the Fourth of July. In fact, I have my own way of celebrating it — an annual viewing of my all-time favorite musical, 1776. When I was raising my children in New Jersey every Fourth of July we would watch that movie, eat Chinese food and then listen to a band concert and watch fireworks, both on the grounds of a nearby Veterans’ Hospital. A wonderful way to remember what July 4th means.
But in our family the third of July is also a very special day.
When I was in my late twenties I wanted very much to be a mother. I would tear up at the joyful news that another of my friends was pregnant. I knit baby blankets and sweaters for new arrivals. I collected baby clothes for orphanages and adoption centers abroad.
For two years I spent Friday nights volunteering with abused children between the ages of six and twelve who were living temporarily on one floor of the New York Foundling Hospital. I gave baths and read stories and took children to Central Park. I saw the results of abuse, and I heard the laughter of children who were survivors. Most of all, I realized that the children I got to know needed even more love and understanding and hope than younger children.
I was single, and I began thinking about adopting an older child. The guy I’m now (MANY years later) married to, and was then dating, took pictures for my first home study. I was twenty-eight.
Skipping a lot of details, my first daughter arrived home from Thailand in March of 1977. I was thirty, and she was almost five years old. She was tiny and beautiful. She also had night terrors and tantrums. But I had hope. Time and love would make a difference. Only a month after she arrived I applied to adopt another child. It had taken several years to adopt Alicia and I wanted her to have a sister.
In April of 1978 my agency called. Would I be interested in adopting an eight-year-old girl who was in Korea? My answer was immediate. YES. I spent that afternoon driving from my office in Piscataway, New Jersey through heavy traffic to my local agency, on the upper east side of New York City, to see a picture of my daughter-to-be. The picture was a small, blurred, black and white image. I propped it on my dashboard on my way home and somewhere along the way decided her American name would be Caroline, after my grandmother.
After my adoption and Immigration paperwork was completed the agency in Korea said they’d try to send Caroline to me before September, when the school year would start. They’d try, but they couldn’t promise. Many children were ahead of her in the queue.
Her sister-to-be and I built bookcases in what had been my study and would now be her bedroom, and hung Korean and United States flags on her bulletin board on either side of a “Welcome Home” sign. I perfected my kimchi and contacted a Korean pediatrician.
My job required travel that summer, so I scheduled it as early as I could, and planned a vacation in Maine with Alicia.
I was at my office Friday afternoon, July 1, when the call came. A measles epidemic had hit the orphanage where Caroline was staying. All of the children scheduled to fly to their new parents were sick, but, because she was older, Caroline had already had measles. She’d be using a ticket intended for another child, and arriving at Kennedy Airport late July 3 … at least two months ahead of schedule.
July 3 was a windy, rainy, night. I was too nervous to drive. My sister’s boyfriend drove Alicia and I to the airport. The roof of his car leaked. I was too excited to care.
It was immediately clear that Caroline was ill. She was weak and scared. She refused to speak to anyone, even in Korean. (She didn’t speak English, of course.) Her pediatrician said she was severely dehydrated. (I later learned she’d thrown up on her first flight, out of Seoul, and then had slept the rest of the long trip. The woman who escorted her had focused on the babies she was bringing to the States, and hadn’t woken Caroline up to make sure she had something to drink.)
In any case, Caroline was home, and within a few days was feeling better. Two weeks after her arrival she and her new sister and I vacationed in Maine. And she started second grade in September.
In our home we celebrate arrival dates as well as birthdays, and the next July 3 there were fireworks. Caroline thought for several years that they were to celebrate her homecoming! But, fireworks or none, July 3 would always be an important date for her, and for me.
I never dreamed when I took Caroline home that first July third, so weak she could hardly stand, that eleven years later she’d join the United States Army. She served overseas and stateside in a MASH unit, married a wonderful man she met while they were both serving, and, both now out of the Army, they live in Virginia with their two beautiful daughters, ages fifteen and sixteen. They’ll be visiting Maine at the end of July.
It won’t be July third, but it will be a time for more memories, and more celebrations.
Lea Wait writes the Mainely Needlepoint and Shadows Antique Print mysteries, and historical novels for children. As a single parent, she adopted four older girls who’d been born in Asia; she now has eight grandchildren. She invites you to friend her on Facebook and Goodreads and to check her website for more information about her and her books.