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#3003: From Haiti, Home Adopted Orphan Rescued by Fate (fwd)
>From Haiti, Home Adopted Orphan Rescued by Fate
By Michael D. Shear Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 23, 2000; Page V01
Jenny Patterson has seen them for years.The wide open eyes of abandoned
children looking longingly at her as she walks away, asking without
words: Don't you want us? Again and again, on her trips to
underdeveloped countries as a project manager for a Virginia-based
relief agency, the answer was what it had to be. No. But that changed
one day nearly two years ago. As she began to walk away from a Haitian
orphanage, Patterson, 31, glanced back for a last look at a 5-year-old
girl pressing her face into a door made of wrought-iron bars. A single
tear streamed down her cheek, Patterson recalled. She turned to her
assistant. "I have to adopt her," Patterson said. "I am going to adopt
her." "Yeah, right," her assistant responded. A few days later, her
husband, Rob, used exactly the same words: "Yeah, right."In fact, just
about everyone assumed she would get over the girl named Julie with the
wide eyes and precious smile, Patterson recalled this week. Trips like
the one to Haiti affect people in strange ways, they told her.
"Nobody took me seriously," said Patterson, who runs Bread
and Water for Africa, a subsidiary of Christian Relief
Services, which is based in Lorton. "Rob said, 'I'll give you a month,
and you'll be on to a new project.' " That never happened.Patterson
convinced her husband that she was serious, and the two took a week-long
vacation with Julie at a resort in Haiti. They swam in the pool, walked
the beach, got to know each other and ate huge amounts of lobster. And
of course, there was tickling."I remember when you tickled me under the
water, Mommy," Julie, now a kindergartner at Mount Vernon Woods
Elementary School in southern Fairfax, said this week. "I got water in
my eyes. You always want to tickle me."The three got along beautifully
that week, Patterson said, despite a language barrier. Patterson and her
husband spoke only English at the time, while Julie spoke only Creole.
Often during that week, Julie would get their attention by saying, "Hey,
Blanc." Translated into English, that means "Hey, white person.""She was
Miss Personality," Patterson said. Returning Julie to the orphanage--a
building in downtown Port-au-Prince where the children are kept inside
24 hours a day because it's unsafe on the streets--was difficult. Julie
cried and once again stared as Patterson walked away.The Pattersons, who
had once pledged not to have children, agreed to adopt Julie and bring
her to their home near Mount Vernon. "We had been home only a couple of
hours," Patterson said. "Rob said, 'Yeah, I guess there's something
missing, isn't there?' We had gotten so used to having her there."
That decision launched the couple on a year-long race against the
clock to fulfill the bureaucratic requirements of adoption before Julie
turned 6. Under Haitian law, abandoned children 6 or older may not
be adopted by anyone. First came the inquiries by social service
agencies, psychologists, counselors--all aiming to make sure they would
be fit parents. Their backgrounds were checked--even the number of
traffic tickets they had received--and they were asked to write essays
about themselves. How did you grow up? What were your parents like?
How will you discipline your child? Then came the tests: for AIDS,
tuberculosis, and complete physicals. A full psychological evaluation
was conducted, and personalreferences were called. As required, they
took two parenting classes. But it was the forms that really took
forever. There were scores of them: some for U.S. agencies; others for
the Haitian government. Each had to be translated into French and
notarized. Both governments had to authenticate the documents. The
process took close to a year, and ran through a lot of patience.
"They don't care about what you are doing, why you are doing it,"
shesaid, her voice growing bitter as she recalled the struggle. "You
have a number. Give us your papers and the money."They endured the
delays--including a terrifying week when a hurricane hit the island of
Haiti, knocking out phones--and formally adopted Julie in May, just days
before the girl's sixth birthday. She was one of 96 Haitian orphans to
be adopted abroad last year, one of only 215 to be adopted abroad since
1988."When we went to get her, we were terrified and excited and scared
to death," Patterson said.Ten months later, the three of them have
settled into the familiar patterns of a typical American family.
Patterson and her husband, a land surveyor, learned Creole to speak
with Julie, but that has largely fallen away as the little girl quickly
took to the English language. She speaks almost fluently now. "Can we go
to the park to ride my bike, Mommy?" she asked one afternoon recently.
Life has its rocky moments, Patterson acknowledged. There are moments
when she and her husband realize they have missed some of the on-the-job
training that most parents get when they raise a child from infancy.
"Don't expect us to be the parents of a 6-year-old, I tell people,"
Patterson said. "We're really like the parents of a 10-month-old.
Ninety-nine percent of the problems have been parenting problems,
not adoption problems."Julie's mother died when she was a baby, and her
father sent her to the orphanage in Haiti when he discovered that he was
terminally ill,according to Patterson. But Julie focuses on little of
that now.She will tell you that she loves playing with her stickers and
her toy computer; and she loves TV and playing ball and with her
Barbies.Ask her who her best friends at school are and she rattles of a
list of a half-dozen without taking a breath."I like to live here with
my family," she said. "I love to live here so much."In 10 years working
at a nonprofit relief agency, Patterson has learned that not everyone
can help in the same way. Certainly, she said, few people will travel to
a foreign country to adopt a youngster out of an orphanage. But
Patterson said she believes that Julie's happiness in Fairfax County is
proof that the children in those orphanages are not verydifferent from
children who have spent their lives in the Washington suburbs. She said
she hopes that her experience will help other people understand, and be
more willing to help, those children."They are not any different because
they are in these situations," she said."These kids, they are just like
my neighbor's boy.