When We First Met

3 years ago

Jan and Joe Nicaragua

I still have those earrings. And the son. But not the t-shirt or white skirt, sad because the white skirt was part of my fancy wedding ensemble when my husband and I were married in the local courthouse a few years before. In Nicaragua in the 80's, women never wore pants or short, only skirts. So I was instructed and I complied.

This picture was taken at the doctor's office where we were waiting for my new son to be examined so he could get the okay to leave the country and enter the United States. We were to take the results of the exam to the U.S. Embassy to finish the paperwork to allow me to bring him home to Milwaukee. That day when I picked him up from the orphanage, helped by my good friend Christina and with a couple from New Hampshire who adopted a brother and sister on the same trip, was the official hand-off. We didn't go back to the orphanage until 16 years later.

He had black curly hair that was always damp, a big stomach, tiny wee arms and legs, and a startling tendency to throw himself backward when he was being held by someone. Even though, in this picture, he was 17 months old, he was floppy and it often seemed like the weight of his own head was too much for him. He was forever hot and sweaty. Sickly. I was holding a sickly baby.

It was such a puzzlement - all of it. The language, the heat, the procedure, the rules, not knowing what was wrong with him, why he was an orphan or where his first people were. Picture this, you are on a train, a man comes up to you and hands you a baby and says, "This is your baby now. Goodbye." And that's all you know is that there was a train and a man.

But you are holding the baby and the baby is now yours.

I am doubting. I can see that in the picture. It's hot, of course. It's Nicaragua in July and it's hot, steamy. I am feeling the sweat from his little body up against my t-shirt and I want to hold him at arms' length. I want a fan. I don't want to be as sweaty as I would be if I really held him tight.

At night in our little hotel room, with my teenage daughter in the other twin bed, I put the baby on my chest to sleep. I figured that he needed to know me, feel my skin, as he would have had he been born, delivered by a doctor and put on my chest. I remembered that a duck could imprint on a human so it must be possible for a baby to throw in with a new mother. And he did.

Today this baby is 27. He is loyal and kind to me, protective and teasing. He calls me 'Ma' like we are farmers in Nebraska. He is funny and handsome and grateful. He thanks me for being his mother.

Me? I am grateful to the man on the train.



Jan Wilberg



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