I remember my husband first telling me about Carlos. We were already two years into our second adoption process and the plan was to adopt another child from Sri Lanka but Sri Lanka had stopped international adoptions indefinitely at this point so we knew that likely we could wait five more years, seven more years...we had no idea.
One day my husband came home from work and said that he had read about a little boy in Chile who was two and needed a family quickly because he had numerous special needs and would benefit from being cared for in a family setting. At this point, we read that he couldn't walk yet, couldn't move much at all, couldn't speak, and needed a lot of help. But we also read that he was a happy boy who loved people and loved to hear music and be read to and that he loved cars.
As we have so often done in our lives, we changed course and applied for special permission to adopt Carlos. Almost a year later we were on our way.
How odd to think that three years ago, we spent May and June 2014 in Chile completing the adoption process that would allow us to welcome Carlos Jesus to our family.
We flew over the Andes and touched down in Santiago, on a chilly winter morning. I remember how tired we were after flying those 17 hours (plus 6 waiting in Paris) with four year old William.
An old man named Max who wore a panama hat met us at the airport and took us to an apartment high up on the 24th floor of a building in Nuñoa and later that night, after I'd slept a bit, I stood on the balcony, looked down at the blazing city lights shining in the bluish darkness and then out toward the shape of the Andes in the distance and thought how unusual that I felt so immediately at home there. I like "strange" places, I do well in the unknown I am not expected to know.
The following weeks were unpredictable, filled with meetings with lawyers, child services, and other officials. At one point, a psychologist came to us for surprise visits over the course of three days and spent time observing us and our family interactions.
We traveled back and forth between Santiago, Viña del Mar, Rengo, La Serene and several towns in the Valle del Elqui. It was a time filled with complex emotions. An important distinction to make is that an adoption journey is not "traveling". Although there are many amazing experiences, the focus is often on simply surviving the challenges each day brings.
It was also around this time that William's more troubling signs of autism began to manifest, due in part to the unpredictable nature of both the trip and the sudden arrival of a toddler who was now immediately his brother. It was a bewildering time because we didn't know then William was autistic and we believed the regression and outbursts we were experiencing were caused by the emotional turmoil (and trauma) of adopting Carlos. Spending six weeks in Chile, visiting different officials almost daily, and no day being predictable, as well as suddenly having a noisy toddler in the family who none of us could communicate with would be a difficult transition for any child, let alone an autistic child. Also there was the issue of visiting the orphanage that brought up a lot of anger and pain in William because for three days we had to return Carlos there in the evening after spending the day with him. Those nights were filled with screaming, raging and fear for William because he couldn't comprehend why we said Carlos was his brother and yet we had to give him back to the orphanage. He began to fear we would do the same to him.
As for Carlos, although he was a happy boy with a constant huge smile right from the start, he didn't know or understand us either. We couldn't speak Spanish and he couldn't speak at all. From the time he was newborn, he had been very ill so had spent his first years belonging to no one, alone in a hospital (born with several illnesses and has various special needs) and then later an orphanage. He had no concept of what a family was or what purpose having a mother served. There were many surprising, almost unbelievable, things about Carlos.
Aside from going from building to car (back and forth between orphanage and hospital) he had never been outside before. At the age of almost three, he had never played in a garden or at a park. He had never been on a walk. He had never been on a visit to the shops, to church, to the beach.
I remember the first day we cared for him, I tried to spoon feed him small pieces of banana and again and again the banana fell out of his mouth. I wondered if he was being defiant or stubborn but after a few tries I saw he actually didn't know how to chew food. I had to move his jaw and show him how to eat a banana. We learned later he had only eaten baby food from jars up until that point.
The magnitude of the experiences he had not had was hard to grasp fully.
They told us that his favorite activities were lying on the floor which was cement (often for hours until it got too cold and he had to be moved) or climbing onto a chair and staring out the window. As if those were usual "favorite activities" for a boy almost three.
However he was well cared for at the orphanage but it is strange to think that there are many experiences from his first years of which we know nothing.
Carlos has come a long way in three years. Now he is beginning to try to speak more although it is difficult for the muscles in his throat to form proper sounds. He goes on a weekly hike, yes hike!, with his preschool, often up a mountain nearby. He is very active and usually happy and loving. He tires very easily though and his muscles in his legs, arms, and hands especially, although much stronger, are still quite weak and need a lot of training. He has a tenancy to get sick easily and often struggles with respiratory issues.
He is a brave little soul and will take care of any spiders or bugs around the house without flinching. He loves people and is very friendly! He also loves to play with other children. And he loves to eat at McDonalds and to shop for new clothes! :)
He has a kind heart and often says "I take care of Mommy" or asks me with his face beaming in delight "You like Carlo, Mommy? You really really like me??" or he will say carefully as though from a script "Mommy, daddy, William, Carlo are a family."
And I think how far he has truly come. He had a rough, lonely start to life and of course, life and learning won't be without struggle for him as he grows, but he has a lot of spirit and seems to have the sort of personality that overcomes a lot. There is a real strength and resilience in him.
It hasn't always been an easy adjustment or transition and all of us have taken our own time with it but three years ago in Chile and the months that followed, a sort of frightening chaos reigned. It wasn't smooth and it wasn't at all easy. Now things have settled down and each day Carlos grows more and more into who he really is. And we learn daily to be a family. One made up of flawed individuals certainly, but Carlos has the family that the the smiling judge in Chile said he needed.
And we really, really like him. :)