This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come from the story I am about to relate...
(Oops! The Ghost of Dickens Past just paid a visit. Sorry about that!)
But my wife and I ARE basically timid people.
We are not the kind to enter marathons or iron man contests. Neither one of us will likely ever bungee jump or appear on "Wheel of Fortune." On purpose anyway.
Our idea of a wild time is a walk through Lowell Park looking for wild flowers.
We live in the Midwest, in a small town in the middle of corn country, in an old house in need of repair, with not quite enough bedrooms - but plenty of wildlife, mostly renting out space in our attic and walls. Dani works in radio, and I, well, I am going to be 42 this summer, and I still haven't decided what I am doing yet... (a Peter Paul and Mary song just came to mind, "Too Much a Nothin'" The subconscious can be cruel!).
So how did we come to find ourselves on a plane flying to South America in the summer of 1992?
It all began a couple of years earlier. We had been married for six years, and were getting on towards the end of our thirtysomething years. For some inexplicable reason, we figured it was time to leave behind the quiet, peaceful, 'do - whatever - we - want - to - whenever - we - want - to' sort of life and start a family.
I am not sure WHAT we were thinking!
But I remember long walks in the evening around the neighborhood, talking and dreaming about a house full of kids. And then, how slowly those talks turned to the resignation that it wasn't going to happen.
I guess even at that point both Dani and I were more comfortable with the idea of adoption than with the idea of all kinds of exotic, invasive fertility procedures (did I mention expensive?). Truth is, babies terrified both of us. I think it was all those dire warnings about the soft spot on a baby's head when I was a kid that did it for me. By adopting older kids, we could just skip that part.
So we hopped aboard the adoption train.
From the start, we were hoping to adopt a sibling group. Three sounded like a good number. But then we got to thinking that might be too many, we could never afford it. Two might be better.
And then one day, just before Christmas, Dani gets a call from our social worker. She has a sibling group of five, would we be interested?
Maybe it was the fact that we were getting ready for Christmas and the first image that popped into my head was five sleepy-eyed, adorable kids tumbling down the stairs in their feety pajamas on Christmas morning. (What I was failing to consider there, was the fact that it is only Christmas morning ONCE a year. How could I know there would be 364 OTHER days of crying, pinching and hitting. Well, there was even crying, pinching and hitting on the 365th! )
Maybe it was the fact that I was the oldest of seven, and I didn't remember it being all that crazy. But, for whatever the reason, I said,
"Sure! Why not?!"
A few days later we got a picture in the mail of these five little kids standing in a row, all cuddly and compliant looking (Ha!).
And then a video of them arrived, and that was that.
People told us we were crazy. But what did we know?!!!
Still... five.... well, we finally decided that if this is what God wanted - and we certainly needed him to be with us in this! - it would happen. We should just keep pursuing it until God shut the door.
He didn't shut the door.
Maybe he was busy somewhere else.
So there we were, 3:00 one morning, driving to O'Hare through pea soup fog, trying to catch a plane for South America. I think the plane was moving when we finally jumped through the door.
Three days later, we were in a hotel in a foreign city with five kids aged two through eight - and not a whole lot to do but watch Playa Infernal (China Beach, dubbed in Spanish) on TV.
There was an energy crisis there at the time (it had been unusually dry, and the hydro plants weren't up to speed), so every night at five o'clock someone at the power plant threw a switch and turned out the lights. People who could afford to had gas generators. Our hotel had one, but it wasn't the most reliable thing. I can still remember these two guys mumbling to each other in Spanish as they tried to coax this old machine in the courtyard to fire up.
The funny thing was, we'd be in our room, trying to get the kids ready for bed, and the room would go pitch black. So now, there we are, we have this two-year old and his four brothers and sisters - and we can't see WHERE any of them are! Or we'd be hoisting a squirming, naked kid into the tub... Yikes!
FOUR WEEKS later we were in a small courthouse in a rural South American village, signing our names to the final adoption decree, with no more ceremony than as if we were filling out an application for a credit card at the table in front of a Sears store at the mall. Our free gift was waiting for us in the small bus outside. I think only one of them had barfed up to that point.
A few days after that, we were on a plane heading for home.
We had to change planes in Miami, and we got held up in immigration. After an hour of sitting helplessly on hard plastic chairs, we were running through this crowded international airport with five kids and all our luggage, trying to make our connecting flight.
We got to the boarding counter, and they weren't going to let us on the plane; something about not having seats together. In the confusion, we turned around - and Pep was gone. Gone. Vanished. Nowhere to be found in this huge, bustling airport. Gripped in panic, we looked everywhere. No one had seen him.
Dani crumpled to the floor.
It was probably one of the worst moments of my life.
And then, a couple of minutes later, here comes a stewardess down the gangway from the plane we were waiting to board, with this goofy, curly-headed little two-year old toddling at her side... He had decided to just go ahead and get on the plane himself!
And so our little adventure began.
When people told us we were crazy, I remember saying, "How hard could it be?"
I guess in the years since, I have learned a few things.
One is that God is in all of this. He was the one who brought Dani and I and these five truly wonderful kids together. He is at work in this. And that is what these stories are all about.
It is July now, four years later.
It's hotter than the blazes and Dani has taken the kids to the pool. They nearly didn't get there. All they had to do were a few simple chores, and it is like pulling teeth. They expend ten times more energy NOT doing what they are told to do than they would if they just simply did it.
Why can't they see that?
I guess it is one of the mysteries of parenthood.