12 Nov Korea Trip 2: Giddy Day (Our First Day of Together Forever)
We woke up on custody day – or “Giddy Day” as we like to call it – full of conflicting emotions. I always imagined Giddy Day would be like the day we met Gideon for the first time, full of unhindered joy, relief, and excitement. But it wasn’t at all. It was full of joy, for sure. I mean, we were about to finally, miraculously become a family of three, about to hold Gideon in our arms forever!
But it was also a day full of fear, of grief, of knowing there would be so many hard days ahead. We were not just becoming Gideon’s parents, but we were also becoming parents for the first time, and our inadequacy, our lack of experience, was glaringly apparent. We tried to make the most of our last morning as a family of two: I wrote one final letter to Gid’s foster parents, we wandered around to some last-minute sites, but deep down we were filled with immense and confusing emotion.
It’s also a really strange place to be, at the end of 14 months of fighting to bring your baby home. There is so much identity, so much anticipation, so much longing wrapped up in being a “waiting family,” and there is a scariness, a sadness, even an identity crisis when suddenly you find yourself at the one day you have spent months dreaming about, the one day you couldn’t, no matter how hard you tried, see past. You could dream up to it, but not past it. Custody day is the finish line, the end goal, everything you ever wanted throughout months (or years) of legal paperwork and agency fees and citizenship requirements. But it’s also the last day you’re able to imagine in adoption, and what lies on the other side is completely uncharted territory. We depended a lot on encouragement from our friends and family in those last hours before Giddy.
More than anything, however, more than the conflicting emotions or scary unknowns, there is a heaviness to custody day unlike anything we had experienced or expected. Of course, we thought often about Gideon’s foster parents during our adoption process. We thought of their impending loss, how they had given two years of their lives to loving Gideon like their own son, and just how hard it might be to say goodbye, for all of us. But there was always a distance to it, like it would come one day, but not yet.
But when custody day hits, it all suddenly becomes heartbreakingly real. “Not yet” becomes “right now.”
Suddenly, overwhelmingly, I had images of Giddy’s Omma carefully packing up his bags, carefully gathering up his favorite toys and clothes and food, knowing she held the last pieces of Gideon’s life in Korea, trying to choose the things that would help him remember her just a little longer. I pictured her packing up the tiny outfit Giddy’s first mama left him in at the agency, a gift she had held onto for 27 months, hoping through silent weeks and big diagnoses that Gideon would find a family. I pictured her going into his room to wake him for the last time, trying desperately to hold onto that last huge smile he always had for her when she opened his door in the morning, the same one he now shares with us. I pictured her preparing his last bottle, and then holding him, whispering her wishes for him, and begging him to remember her, as he unknowingly looked into her eyes for the last time. I pictured her making sure he looked absolutely perfect for his new Mommy and Daddy, that his little outfit was just right and his hair was combed just so. I pictured her strapping Gideon into his car seat, fighting back her own tears, her own worries that his new parents wouldn’t know exactly how to make his food or exactly what temperature he liked his bottles, so that Gideon could try to be brave and strong too.
As we looked forward to our “firsts” with Gideon, his Omma counted down her “lasts.”
To this day, I can’t even type these words without sobbing. Gideon’s Omma and Appa will always, always be two of the most humble, giving, selfless people we’ve ever known. And as we boarded the subway to the agency ourselves, I counted down the minutes with a heavy heart, knowing that every second closer we got to Gideon in our arms was one second closer to their arms being empty.
Brian and I took the subway to Yeoksam Station in Gangnam in near silence, the weight of the day heavy on both of us. Early as usual (by 90 minutes), we made our way to Paris Baguette for one last lunch together. Little did we know, this would be the last meal we’d eat for over 24 hours, so we highly recommend a hearty “last meal before custody.” And maybe stocking your hotel room with snacks, in case you have a kiddo who refuses to leave too.
From our upstairs, corner table at Paris Baguette – the same table at which we took nervous selfies before we met Gideon, and the same table at which we prepared for court the month before– we saw Gideon’s Omma and Appa pull into the parking garage just across the street. Their little blue truck – the one I had been dreaming about since we watched his Omma and Appa buckle Gideon into his car seat after our visit, the one that turned a corner in front of SWS and drove away as we waved goodbye to our son a few long weeks before – was right in front of our eyes, and we knew it brought a scared little boy and his last belongings from his foster home. I lost it all over again. I watched as other foster moms carrying babies in carriers made their way up the long hill to SWS, probably having the same dreams for their kiddos and the same dread for this day that would soon be theirs too.
I’m not sure if the minutes dragged along or flew by, but at 2:10, we left our late lunch and made our way up the hill to SWS. Once we got to the lobby, I ran into the bathroom to try to slow my anxious breathing one last time, while Brian sneaked photos of Gideon’s foster dad and foster sister – sitting in the lobby – for Gid’s foster sister’s family back in Kentucky (that’s another God story for a different day, but Gideon’s foster sister, who could have ended up anywhere in the world, was adopted by a sweet family who lives 30 minutes away from us and who goes to our same church). My heart was still racing as we stepped into the elevator – the one with all the Egyptian hieroglyphics on the walls that didn’t seem quite so funny anymore – and made our way to the seventh floor.
Foster mom and Gideon were already in the playroom, his little shoes waiting just outside the door. We quickly slipped off our own shoes and joined them. Unlike the joy that filled this same space during our second visit with Gideon, now there was a heavy silence consuming the otherwise cheerful room. Gideon padded around looking for familiar toys, and our social worker translated from foster mom that Gideon also seemed sad today, “like he knew what was happening.”
Like he knew what was happening.
I think it was about this moment that I felt myself slipping into a foggy daze. I remember foster mom and our social worker talking about Gideon’s daily routine, his favorite foods, and his medical report from that same morning. I double-checked that he had no known allergies, double-checked his bottle schedule, double-checked the words he could say and understand. Our social worker talked us through our citizenship packet, reminded us not to open the huge folder labeled DO NOT OPEN, DO NOT BEND, and to simply hand everything over to the citizenship officer when we got to Dallas. I made sure the social security card box was checked, just like we had been instructed, and our social worker reminded us of our Visa appointment day and time. She told us to keep in touch and to let us know when we landed safely in the US.
Then the three of us sorted through the two duffel bags foster mom had brought together. One huge bag was filled with 2 outfits, several undershirts, and socks; 5 or 6 of Giddy’s favorite toys, including a massive Pororo electronic pyramid; his first outfit from his birth mama; and every last thing we had sent our boy via care packages, save for one shirt foster mom must have loved, because that was the one she chose for his passport photo and to keep. Gideon was already holding onto his stacking cups, and foster mom reminded us how much he loved them.
The other huge bag was filled with three huge containers of goat’s milk formula, a bottle brush, unopened containers of filtered water, little portioned containers of dak juk (rice porridge) that foster mom had made just for Gideon, bananas, strawberry Yoplait yogurt, and four new bottles stamped with the SWS logo. Our social worker added an enormous package of diapers, a commemorative Korean flag, and a book about Korean culture for Gideon to have “as he grew up in America.”
We took a few final photos with Gideon’s Omma and our social worker. I tried to think of more questions, more commentary, one last thank you, anything to prolong our precious last moments together. But all too quickly, we felt our time drawing to a close, and there was nothing we could do to stop it.
Gideon’s Omma knelt next to Gideon, drew him into a tight hug – squeezing him as though she could maybe, just maybe, hold on forever – and kissed him one last time. Gideon’s sweet Omma stood up, and even though I didn’t know if it was culturally appropriate, I hugged her so tight, and she hugged me right back. I whispered “daedani kamsahamnida,” trying with all that I had to convey in the two words of Korean I knew just how thankful we would forever be for her. A million words would never be enough to express our gratitude, but two words were all I had, and I prayed they would somehow be enough.
She nudged Gideon to the edge of the playroom, put his little gray Nikes back on his feet, and our social worker, with far more finality than I’m sure she meant, said, “And now it’s time for you to go. The taxi is out front.” Brian took Gideon’s bags, his Omma picked up Gideon and carried him just behind us, and I don’t even remember what I had in my hands, because I don’t remember anything except my eyes being blurred from tears that wouldn’t stop coming.
I tried to stop time, to walk as slowly as humanly possible down the short hallway to the elevator, but time simply refused to halt. Gideon’s Omma handed our boy to me, forever our boy, and the social worker quickly pushed the button to close the elevator doors. Foster mom waved sadly, Brian and I continued to let the tears spill down our faces, and as those elevator doors closed together one final time, they shut out the very last glimpse of Gideon’s Omma.
Gideon felt awkward in my arms. As I SHARED A FEW WEEKS AGO, at the time the feeling terrified me. But looking back, I think God was giving me a very tangible, very physical reminder that those moments should always feel awkward. Adoption is born out of brokenness, born out of loss, born out of our boy losing not one, but two mamas before his third birthday. Adoption can be, and hopefully will be for our family, a beautiful image of redemption – a living, breathing representation of God’s redemption for all of humanity – but this still isn’t how things were supposed to be. 2-year-olds shouldn’t have to know this magnitude of loss.
And like a ton of bricks that shattered my heart into a million pieces, I realized as we walked toward the front door to SWS, as we made our way to the taxi that would forever separate us from the only family he had ever known, that these were the final minutes of Gideon not knowing the trauma that would live with him for the rest of his life. These were the moments that separated a carefree, happy little boy from a boy who would feel and carry more loss than Brian and I would likely ever know. There was a loss imprinted on his heart when his birth mama sealed her consent for adoption with her tiny little fingerprint, but Gideon didn’t understand that yet. In his mind, his Omma was his mother, and his Appa was his father. And we, Brian and I, will forever be the ones that shattered his security, his image of family.
The moment when Gideon’s Omma placed him in my arms, when we stepped into the elevator and the doors closed, when we walked out of SWS without his Omma and Appa, will forever be the moments that left a huge, gaping hole in Gideon’s heart that will be our job – and God’s job – to fill, for the rest of his life. There will be peace again, security again, there already has been. But we will fight every day for his heart. We will fight for Gideon to understand that there wasn’t a day, wasn’t a moment, wasn’t a second that he wasn’t fully loved and wanted and adored by his Korean mama, his Omma, his Appa, his Mommy, and his Daddy. He may have been a surprise to everyone else, but he wasn’t a surprise to God, and he certainly wasn’t a mistake. He was perfectly and wonderfully created just as he is, to be part of a family, for just a time as this.
And the joy he has, in the face of overwhelming loss, will forever be a source of strength for us. We wouldn’t get to see it again for a few weeks after Giddy Day, but the joy that overflows from Gideon touches so many people around him. So many of the medical professionals and evaluators we’ve met like to point out how anxious Gideon tends to be, but we think he’s the bravest kid we know. Because he let himself trust us, let himself love the very funny looking, funny sounding, funny smelling people who took him away from everything he had ever known. He didn’t understand that he would have aged out of foster care in another 9 months. He didn’t understand that one day he’d have to say goodbye to his foster family, one way or another. But it didn’t matter. He lost everything he knew, but he chose to love anyway. And that will forever be the story of our brave little boy we will remember and learn from and hold to. And that will forever be why, so long as he wants to, we will choose to honor our boy on Giddy Day, along with his strong and courageous Omma and Korean mama who loved him every second before us.