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Alan Paul was a magazine editor, writer and photographer for more than 30 years. Now retired, he lives in Hawthorne and sometimes Woodstock, NY, with his wife Jan (also retired, of GRHS Athletic Dept. fame), and Jackson Brown, their dog. They lived in Glen Rock for 13 years. Alan has written and published four books, available on Amazon.
Our daughter Carolyn doesn’t look at all like me. She doesn’t look like my wife, Jan, either. She looks like her birth parents, I suppose. Our daughter is adopted, of course, and if you have an adopted child, or you’re close to someone who does, you understand that the word — adopted — doesn’t mean anything. And it means everything.
After nearly 10 years of trying to have a baby, Jan and I, like countless couples before and since, started the fertility dance, but eventually discovered it would be very difficult, if not impossible to conceive in the generally accepted manner. Jan, ever the problem-solver (she later worked at Glen Rock High School as an admin. in Attendance and then the Athletic Department for 17 years), was soon ready to explore other “We’re Havin’ a Baby” options. Me? I was ready to chuck the whole friggin’ thing. I was angry; though I’m still not entirely sure why.
I remember thinking, maybe the Big Guy’s plan for Jan and me did not include the patter of little human feet. But hadn’t someone who’d obviously been close to the Big Guy once said, “God helps those who help themselves?”
Maybe we hadn’t “helped ourselves” enough. Maybe we had to do a bit more before divine intervention kicked in.
We discussed the few remaining items on our “We’re Havin’ a Baby” checklist and finally took a long look at the last remaining option on the list: Adoption. Wow. Big move. While I had always pictured myself with children of my own, I think the key phrase was, “of my own.” Adoption? I wasn’t sure.
Even though I had my doubts, Jan didn’t waiver, so I agreed to look into adoption with a more or less open mind. We did lots of research, which was an onerous process. Remember — this was before Al Gore “invented” the World Wide Web. Over time, we discovered that local adoptions (meaning kids from the U.S.) were almost non-existent back then. So we turned our gaze toward South Korea. Wow. Big move. If you’re thinking right about now, “I bet he had some doubts,” you’d be correct. I did. But after a while I figured, what the hell! If this kid wasn’t going to look like us anyway, what difference would it make if he/she really didn’t look like us?
We discovered two adoption agencies relatively close to us: Holt, in Central Jersey, and Spence-Chapin, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
We went to a meeting at Holt, and felt like we had stumbled into a Scared Straight meeting at nearby Trenton State Prison. Lots of stern faces, no rights for the inmates, and absolutely no fun — no way, no how. By this time, Jan had decided that she wanted a girl, if possible, and Holt’s attitude was, we had no right to even have — let alone profess — a preference. We checked them off the list that very night. Next!
Spence-Chapin was everything that Holt was not. Professional, friendly, and compassionate, they knew everything we had endured that had eventually brought us, cold and hungry, to their doorstep. They understood, and they cared. We were blessed with a caseworker named Flicka. Our Friend Flicka held our hands every step of the way and was quick with a smile or an encouraging word whenever she sensed they were needed. And we needed them a lot. Any idiot can have a baby, but to adopt one, you have to be perfect. I don’t think I made that comment out loud during what became a lengthy, costly, cumbersome and at times personally invasive process, but I might have.
Finally, we reached the second-biggest day of the adoption process; we received our referral, which meant that a specific child in South Korea had been officially assigned to us. We drove into the city and Our Friend Flicka, all smiles per usual, handed us a photo of our daughter.
To say that the photo was unflattering would be an understatement.
On the way home in the car, Jan’s feelings of protectiveness for this child we hadn’t met yet were already in full throttle. “We’ll just have to love her all that much more,” she said. Though I wasn’t absolutely certain, I said I agreed.
August 7 was the day our daughter was scheduled to fly into Kennedy Airport to meet us for the very first time. “Gotcha Day” is the most important day of the adoption process. We still celebrate it, birthday-like, every year.
A Paul family caravan made its way to JFK that day in 1987, including both sets of grandparents, an aunt and assorted cousins. We arrived at the International Arrivals terminal, at the predetermined area, and waited for what seemed like a long time. There were six children on that flight coming to their new homes and families, and we all waited in that same area for our blessed events to transpire.
I really don’t recall much of what anyone was saying at that time; Jan and I were totally focused on each other and the moment and weren’t paying much attention to anyone else. Plus, it was 35 years ago.
We were eventually informed that the kids had gone through customs and would be coming up shortly, so we all crowded around the lone elevator for their arrival. The elevator door opened a few minutes later, and a collective gasp went up from the gathered multitude. The clamor frightened the elevator’s lone occupant, a custodian, very nearly to death.
Then the elevator door opened for real, and a double stroller rolled forth, pushed by none other than Flicka! We immediately recognized the occupant of the right seat as our daughter. Except… instead of an Ugly Betty, the passenger sitting there was the most beautiful female child that the Big Guy, in all his infinite power and wisdom, had ever fashioned. I’m not exaggerating here; I saw, with all my pent-up parental devotion and longing, that she was literally the most breathtakingly beautiful child I had ever laid eyes upon! And I fell instantly and hopelessly in love. Because she was ours. And we were hers. At long last. Thanks, Big Guy.
I fell instantly and hopelessly in love.
Throughout the adoption process, we could not agree on a name. Where Jan preferred the exotic-and-unusual, I always countered with the traditional-but-uncommon. We were antiquing in Nyack one Sunday afternoon and Jan discovered a small table in the corner of a tiny shop, which displayed antique-looking birth announcement cards. There was one card — and only one — that was specifically designed to be an adoption announcement. The saying on the card was, “She wasn’t expected; she was selected,” and just below that, written in beautifully intricate calligraphy, was the name Carolyn. We agreed on the spot. That would be our daughter’s name.
Six months after beginning the adoption process, we made an unbelievable discovery. We were visiting our closest and dearest friends, Debbie and Gary, in part to give them our good news. They were thrilled for us, of course, and we celebrated enthusiastically into the wee hours.
Several blocks after we left their house, traveling through the winding roads of their Montville neighborhood, Jan suddenly grabbed my arm and warned, “Be careful. There’s an animal in the road up ahead.” Then I saw it: a small shape that shimmered in the glare of our headlights, in the center of the road, about 30 yards ahead.
I proceeded slowly, but the “animal” never moved. As we got closer, we both realized that the shape was actually some sort of package. I carefully pulled alongside, opened the car door and lifted the package into the car. What had impeded our progress turned out to be a pink and white plastic bucket, wrapped in cellophane and tied at the top with pink and white ribbons. Through the wrappings we could make out a generous collection of lotions, sponges, Q-tips, powders and diapers, the kinds of things that one might give to someone expecting a baby. On one side of the face of the bucket, slightly obscured by the cellophane but still visible, was a cartoon of a Teddy bear and the words, “Bear Basket.” On the other side was written, “It’s a Girl!”
Jan and I didn’t discuss whether we should try to find its owner. Oddly, we just assumed that somehow the Bear Bucket had found us; Gary and Debbie didn’t put it there and that’s as far as we searched. If that random appearance wasn’t an example of intervention at its most Divine, I don’t know what is. 👶🏼