In our home we celebrate Gotcha Days, anniversaries of those bright, shiny moments in China when we first held our children—when we became theirs and they got a family. Each anniversary features a cake, balloons, and a few presents, but unlike birthdays we keep them within the family since they could as accurately be called Family Days or just about anything with similar meaning. We’ll continue the tradition as long as it doesn’t seem obligatory and it has been interesting to watch how our girls have embraced their Gotcha Days as they have gotten older. Each celebration has unfailingly turned out to a big day all around and at least somewhat unique to their complicated stories; that you had to be there at the beginning to completely understand is part of its special charm.
Today was Henry's first Gotcha Day and the completion of a wondrous year. Not long ago at a series of exams with our medical team, our surgeons pronounced the results of Henry's first cleft surgeries last fall to be "spectacular" and "much better than we could have hoped." There will be more surgeries, all with challenges, but Henry's new palate has not developed the holes common in cleft procedures closing much smaller gaps. Today his new upper lip looks tighter than it really is and, important for later, its center is exactly in line with the center of his face.
His receptive language, or understanding of our speech, is age-appropriate and then some. For his part, Henry can now make most vowel sounds along with the consonant sounds for b, h, m, n, and w. He can even form some words; first the ever useful uh oh and now Ma, Da (for Dad), hat, ball, hi, bye, my, up, 'nana (for banana), and wa wa (for water). Eventually his ability to form difficult hard consonant sounds like those for k and q will determine whether he will need surgery to assist his speech by lengthening his soft palate before he enters kindergarten when we already plan more reconstruction of his nose and lip.
Henry can occasionally be as fussy and sleepless as would any two and a half year old with late teeth sometimes pushing out in odd places, malformed from the same genetic material from which the front of his hard palate was built. But he could not be a sweeter little boy; happy in his world of little toy trains, soft stuffed animals, and his family who loves him.
… So there we were, then just the four of us, one full year ago, having determinedly sped from Beijing west toward China's earthquake zone to scoop up our little Henry from the Pingliang Social Welfare Institute, as if that was the most natural thing in the world and, in every way that matters, it actually was.