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“I’m afraid of rats,” five-year-old Ruben said, explaining why he didn’t want to sleep next to the wall. “There are no rats in this house.” Gladimi, his 7 year-old brother, reassured him. “The rats were in the other house. The one that shook.” They insisted on sharing a bed, but fought as to who would sleep against the wall. “That house was ugly. This house is pretty,” Gladimi added with a smile. Thus began the first of many conversations about “the house that shook.” Gladimi went: “A rat bit my toe. It bled. It hurt. I cried.” Ruben, not to be outdone, chimed in: “A rat bit my toe. I didn’t cry!” I could believe it; he’s an uncommonly tough kid, especially compared to his cry-on-a-dime older brother. But still the thought of rats made him climb into my lap and hug me tight. Gladimi then launched into a description of the terrible earthquake that devastated Haiti earlier in the year. Speaking Haitian Creole, I could only understand snatches of it, he was scared; people were screaming; they ran out of the house; the house shook and broke; they ran fast, fast.
Their eight-year-old sister Rachel was filled with indignation as she remembered that day: “I was in the kitchen. The house shook. I fell down. I fell on the stove; it hurt!” She clutched her right shoulder –and now I knew how she got that large crescent-shaped scar. She seemed more angry than scared at the memory. Gladimi went on: “then I went on a plane. Mommy and Daddy went on the plane, too. Then I came here!” To which Ruben added: “I went on a plane, too!” And then he hugged me so tight it hurt, and I felt his tiny body shaking. From the time we began the process to adopt three children from Haiti four years before, I never once had second-thoughts, but holding Ruben’s tiny, shaking body in that moment confirmed, beyond any doubt, that we had done the right thing.
We certainly had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we started the process, which is just as well. Three years after accepting the referral of a sibling set of three, the process was still dragging at a snail’s pace within the inscrutable bowels of Haitian bureaucracy. We were beginning to wonder if would ever get our kids. Then a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti.
It was four days before we got word that our kids were alive and well. But they were far from safe- dealing with aftershocks, food & water shortages, mobs & rioting, rotting corpses, disease and rumble. Utter relief came with the news that Humanitarian Paroles would be issued for all kids in the process of adoption.
The three weeks between January 12th, the day the earthquake hit, and February 8th, the day we picked up our kids, were the most intense, excruciating three weeks of my life. One minute we thought our kids would soon be on their way; the next we would be informed of some seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Sleepless nights, mountains of paperwork, endless running around, and prayer finally paid off and we got the call that our kids had their paroles and would be on the next plane out.
However, a massive snow storm was descending on Northern Virginia, shutting down all airports. We were assured our kids would be well cared for till we arrived in Miami to collect them, but how would they feel? When the airport still hadn’t reopened after three days, we took matters into our own hands. We rented a car and drove nineteen hours to Miami. We pulled into Miami at three am, managed a few hours sleep and then greeted our kids with hugs and kisses as they, oblivious, ate their cereal and watched cartoons.
Six weeks after they arrived, it was Gladimi’s birthday. We told him he was now seven. Rachel protested: Gladimi wasn’t seven. She was seven, so Gladimi couldn’t be seven! We told her she was eight, but she didn’t believe us. It dawned on me: her birthday was January 13th, the day after the earthquake. They hadn’t celebrated it, so she had no idea she had turned eight. So I explained, “Do you remember that day, back in your old house, when the ground shook and all the buildings fell down? That was your birthday.” Rachel gave me a blank look, but Gladimi’s eyes went wide, and he said in a breathless whisper, “Yes! I remember!”
Because of the language barrier, I can’t ask them all the questions I’d like to. Do they remember their biological parents? Do they remember being left at the orphanage? How did they feel? After eight months in America, they have fully integrated into their new family (we have five biological children). They are happy, healthy, well-adjusted children. They go to school, speak English, play with friends, ride bikes, laugh, joke and tease, and come to me for hugs and kisses. I am left in awe at the resilience of children. I hope that some day they’ll be able to tell me about their other life; but only if they can keep the details, while leaving the pain behind.
– Gabrielle LeBlanc, from Herndon, VA, married to Matthew Carnogursky, mother of Lizzy 18, Nick 17, Marie 15, Tommy 12, Katie 11, Rachel 8, Gladimi 7, Ruben 5.
Gladami, Rachel, and Ruben had an Answer. Be The Answer for another child. Check out our Be The Answer Toolkit and plan on hosting a party. The Be The Answer Toolkit can be found here!