Anne Notations

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Short walk, long journey

Andrés, June 9, 2005

Fourteen years ago, on March 1, 1991, we brought home our son Andrés from Bogotá, Colombia.

He was just about to turn 5 -- a small boy, brown-skinned with rosy "Bogotáno" cheeks from the high altitude. His eyes were huge and coffee-brown with long lashes. He had bristle-stiff black hair, rounded cheeks, and a killer smile that he flashed to great effect. He also had a temper like the Tazmanian Devil's. He spoke not one word of English.

That fall, I would often pick Andrés up at his half-day kindergarten and bring him for a picnic lunch on the College Green. We'd sit side-by-side on a slatted bench, chewing intently on our tuna sandwiches and soaking up the sun. His English was improving. He'd look up at me sometimes and say, "I love you, Mommy. I love my beautiful Mommy! You are the best Mommy." My heart filled up, as did my eyes.

The road to high school was bumpy. Diagnosed with both Attention Deficit Disorder and severe dyslexia, Andrés often needed extra tutoring and extra time at school -- not to mention lots of help with homework. We were stunned by his brain's inability to retain even simple spelling and alphabetical information, and our patience was tested sorely at times. It occurred to me one day that, if I had a learning disability like my son's, I'd avoid reading at all costs. I was humbled by the thought of the struggles that faced my son every single day.

Somehow, we all soldiered on, often the worse for wear. Switching Andrés from public to Catholic school and having him repeat the fourth grade helped considerably. By the time he entered LaSalle Academy, Andrés had learned to buckle down when he had to. His guidance counselor made sure his disability was accommodated with textbooks on tape, extra time for essay exams, and a pass (if he wanted it) on reading aloud in class. Often he would volunteer to read anyway, just because "I want the practice."

Andrés grew as an athlete and a young man, transitioning to cross-country and track when he was cut from varsity soccer as a junior. He took his fill of art classes as a senior, excelling in photography and video production/editing. He held a year-round job walking a neighbor's pitbull every day and worked summers as a camp counselor in North Hero, Vermont, on Lake Champlain. He became a part-time lifeguard at our local Y. He had girlfriends, heartbreak, good friends, parties, and proms. He made highest honors and was inducted into the National Honor Society. He earned two varsity letters and the school's senior leadership award in the arts.

For an English homework assignment, Andrés wrote an essay that concluded with these thoughts:

"There are some things about being adopted that can be difficult. People often don’t understand adoption. They stare at you and your parents. It’s hard not knowing my birth family and what I inherited from them. I look at my younger brother Kevin, who was not adopted, and I see where he got his looks and his talents. This can be a bit depressing, but it’s something I can’t change.

"On the other hand, being adopted changes your life. It gives you a family that loves you and cares for you. It has taught me responsibility toward others and respect for parents and other relatives. I have gotten an education I never would have gotten in Colombia. I have received good nutrition, medical care, and fitness through sports. I also have learned how to be open to other people. ... Most of all, I have learned how to love."

Last Thursday night we all gathered inside the majestic Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul downtown to watch Andrés and his classmates graduate. More than an hour into the long but very classy ceremony, our son walked down the center aisle to receive his diploma. He was only 10 rows from the front, but I knew just how long a walk it was ... from malnourishment and abuse and orphanage life... to a shocking immersion in a new culture, language, family, and set of expectations... to slips and setbacks and perseverance and achievement.

I watched Andrés get his diploma and then smile that dazzling smile. My heart and my eyes were full.

Kevin, Melinda, and Andrés get silly on our front porch after graduation.


  • Hi Anne. It's Kathy (ajedisgirl) from the Over21Gang. I just wanted to say that your story and the wonderful talent you have for writing has brought me to tears! Both you and your son are an inspiration. You should be very proud of all you have accomplished and your son for all he has overcome. Blessings to you both and best of luck to him in the future. Cheers!

    By Anonymous Kathy, at Mon Jun 13, 11:49:00 AM EDT  

  • All right, you got me all teary eyed. thanks so much for your beautiful story. Congratulations!

    By Blogger helenjane, at Thu Jun 16, 10:46:00 AM EDT  

  • Very cool, Anne! He's a handsome boy too! Did he pass his exam? I am so behind on list emails, I thought I'd ask here.

    By Blogger H.S. Kinn, at Mon Jun 27, 04:28:00 PM EDT  

  • That's a beautiful story.

    By Blogger Jack's Shack, at Tue Aug 14, 11:49:00 AM EDT  

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