My darling nephew Enakai, adopted from the Marshall Islands last spring, just had his kemem, the traditional Marshallese celebration when a child survives to age one. From the photos taken at his party in Tucson, I could see Enakai toddling around in his little Hawaiian shirt, admiring his surfer-themed cake and smiling at all the attention. A charming extravert, this little guy loves parties. It’s no surprise that his first word was “hi!”
This celebration was in some ways the culmination of a long, hard process. Once my sister Yuri applied to adopt, there followed two years of paperwork, home visits and waiting. Adopting parents have their employment history, finances and physical and mental health scrutinized; they are fingerprinted for an FBI background check; and they have to come up with tens of thousands of dollars in agency fees and travel costs. Meanwhile, there is the waiting, waiting, waiting to hold their child in their arms.
adoption papers pregnant with hope
One day last March, Yuri finally got her referral, complete with photos of a six-week old baby boy, smiling broadly. Her son.
Yuri and I soon flew to the Marshall Islands, a few specks of coral atoll in the Western Pacific. As I’ve described in a previous post, there followed several weeks of getting to know Enakai and his birth family while jumping through still more legal hoops.
still measured in weeks
the time between cloudbursts
Before I left on the trip, I put my arm around my son Gabriel and said, “Don’t worry, I would never give you up for adoption, even if we had to live in a cardboard box together.”
But seeing the reality of Enakai’s life in the Marshalls made me question my easy conviction. Although Enakai’s birth family was better off than many, when we visited, his home lacked food, furniture, and toilet paper. His mother was often short the $2 bus fare to town. We learned that fewer than half of all Marshallese children graduate from high school.
Even if Enakai navigated all those challenges, the Marshall islands are already heavily impacted by climate change and may be underwater by the end of the century. A cardboard home wouldn’t float for long!
A series of choices—by Enakai’s birth mother and my sister—has added up to a small miracle. This beautiful, bright-eyed boy has entered our family, and a very different life. He is everything Yuri hoped for in a child, and we all adore him.
Happy first birthday, Enakai. Wishing you many more journeys around the sun.
warmly, Auntie Annette
“adoption papers” was first published as a haiku in Now This: Contemporary Poems of Beginnings, Renewals, and Firsts, Ed. Robert Epstein (Wasteland Press, 2013). The piece was published as a haiga (haiku with art) on DailyHaiga, February 2, 2015.
“his age” was published in Frogpond, 37:3, November 2014.
Makino Studios News
Valentine’s Day: There are a number of cards in my Makino Studios shop on Etsy that are suitable for Valentine’s Day; I can also mat or frame any of these for a meaningful gift starting at $18.