Last week Tuesday, we finally met our son! Years of praying and waiting and hoping finally culminated in one of the happiest days of our lives.
We left quarantine on October 23 and had a few days to prepare for our October 27 meeting with him. After leaving quarantine, we were able to stretch out and enjoy our first few “official” days in South Korea. However, our focus remained primarily on our first meetings with Brooks and our court date.
As we mentioned in our last blog update, we spent most of the 26th preparing for our first meeting. We talked through all of the possible scenarios on how he would react to seeing us and how, or even whether, he would interact with us during our one-hour visit. We talked about how we should act and what we should do under various “what if” scenarios. We prayed hard that God would help us to manage our expectations, bless our time together, and protect Brooks from the fear and uncertainty that would be entering his life.
After another night of restless sleep, we were up bright and early to get ready. Our meeting was scheduled for 1:30 p.m., but we wanted to be sure to give ourselves plenty of time to account for unexpected delays. We also hoped that by arriving early, we might be able to sneak in a little extra time with Brooks during our visit.
We were out the door around 10:35 a.m. We walked to Anguk Station and boarded the subway for Mapo. We were carrying a backpack filled with toys for the visit and two IKEA bags full of gifts for Brooks’ foster mom and donations for Holt Korea. Though the subway ride was fairly short and uneventful, we noticed that we were uncomfortably warm in our multi-layered business casual and disposable COVID masks. Nobody else around us seemed to be quite as uncomfortable as we were despite being dressed similarly. We shrugged it off and assumed that the other passengers must have been acclimated to the conditions in the subway.
We arrived at the Holt office around 11:45 a.m. and went in. We were promptly told that the staff was leaving for lunch and that we would need to come back at 1:00 p.m. We decided to use the time to catch our breath outside and get something to drink. We sat on a bench outside the Holt office and observed the hustle and bustle of midday in Mapo, all-the-while getting more and more anxious as our meeting drew closer.
Around 12:30 p.m., another adoptive family arrived out in front of the office. We waited and chatted with them for a while. They were also there for their first meeting with their son and had brought along their daughter – who was adopted several years ago and was fostered by Brooks’ foster mother.
While we chatted with them, we saw Brooks crossing the street holding his foster mom’s hand. Even behind a mask and 50 yards away, we knew it was him. There was our son. In person. Not a picture or a video clip. There he was walking towards us. We were speechless.
When Brooks and his foster mother got closer to us, we exchanged knowing glances and she steered him towards us. Even though we were not technically supposed to see him before our supervised meeting, she brought him right up to us.
We got down to his level and waved and said “hi” to him. We were doing our best to contain our excitement and avoid frightening him. As he quietly sized us up, his foster mom handed him a laminated sheet of photographs we had sent him. He studied the pictures for a moment and then studied us. When his foster mom asked him where “eomma” was, he pointed at Bri! After a little more study, he was able to point me out as “appa” even behind the new(ish) beard.
We stayed crouched in front of the building with him for a while – almost completely forgetting that we had to go inside to do some paperwork and then have our scheduled meeting with him. We just wanted to sit there with him and soak in all of the indescribable emotions we felt.
At the same time, Brooks’ foster mom recognized the little girl she had fostered only a couple of years earlier. They had a tearful reunion. Even though Brooks’ foster mom could not speak English, the connection she felt was clearly communicated.
After about 15 minutes with Brooks and his foster mom outside the building, we made our way in. Brooks and his foster mom split off to go to the playroom in the secondary office building about a block away.
Inside the main Holt office building, we had a group meeting with the head social worker for the international adoption program. We were happy to finally meet her because she had been so friendly and helpful, particularly down the home stretch. We discussed the process and went over the ground rules for our visits with Brooks. After a short while, we were guided out of the building and led to the secondary Holt office building where we would have our formal meeting with Brooks.
We took the elevator up to the third floor of the building and, as soon as it opened, we could see Brooks down the hallway in one of the playrooms. We made our way down the hall and found him happily playing with some toy cars on the floor near his foster mom. He certainly seemed like he was in his element.
We sat down by him and began playing with toys. It did not take long for Brooks to warm up to us and involve us in his playtime. We played with windup toy cars and a big yellow bus that he seemed very fond of. We brought along some finger puppets, and he enjoyed putting them in the bus, closing the door, and waving goodbye to them.
Occasionally, he would get up to go find another toy, and I would follow him. He would grab a toy and head back to where we had been playing, but if I was not moving fast enough, he would tug on my pant leg or push me.
We also got to play with some of the toys that we brought along, including the bubble gun, which was a huge hit. He loved being inside the toy castle and loved it when I climbed in with him.
While we played, the head social worker translated a list of questions we made for Brooks’ foster mom and wrote down all of the answers for us. It was immensely helpful to have her there to translate the answers for us. As for how Brooks’ foster mom described his personality, she just wrote down, “active!”
Brooks’ foster mom gave me a beautiful, ornate business card holder and gave Bri an ornate, Korean compact mirror. She also gave us some face mask lanyards and some treats.
In the blink of an eye, our hour with Brooks was over. Thankfully, we were allowed to walk out with him and his foster mom. The four of us walked out of the Holt office and towards their bus stop. The walk was mostly silent due to the language barrier. We wished that we could communicate better with his foster mom and tell her directly how grateful we were for all of the love she had shown Brooks. Bri and I watched him almost the entire walk while trying to avoid being overbearing or looking crazy in front of his foster mom. For what it’s worth, he seemed to be keeping an eye on us too as he walked along holding his foster mom’s hand.
When we reached the junction of our subway stop and where Brooks and his foster mom needed to cross the street, she picked him up and prompted him to say “goodbye.” He gave us the cutest little wave and decided to just keep waving at us. As he and his foster mother walked through the crosswalk, he stayed fixated on us and kept waving. As they walked through the next crosswalk, he just kept waving at us. He stared and waved until he was out of sight.
Our hearts were so full and we were so thankful for such an amazing experience.
As the high of the meeting wore off, we realized that it was already late afternoon and neither of us had eaten much. We were utterly physically exhausted. We walked to a nearby McDonald’s to have a quick celebratory meal and recharge a little. After we ate, we did some shopping at a nearby Homeplus (kind of like a Target combined with a WalMart, but much more compact) for some groceries and other things we needed.
Wednesday, we stayed mostly around the hotel and regrouped, preparing for our second meeting. Around mid-afternoon, while Bri worked, I decided to do a little exploring near our hotel.
I walked to the beautiful, ornate Buddhist temple that is almost directly behind our hotel called Jogyesa. There are beautiful structures and flower-covered statues that are in full fall bloom.
After wandering around Jogyesa for about a half hour, I decided to walk to nearby Insadong to see what it was all about. Insadong is a well-known neighborhood that is very close to our hotel. There are many shops and restaurants. For those reading in the Milwaukee area, it is a little bit like a more densely-packed Third Ward.
On Thursday morning, we repeated our pre-meeting routine from two days earlier. We decided not to show up quite so early since we knew exactly where we needed to go and approximately when Brooks and his foster mom would show up. We arrived at the Holt office around 12:45 p.m. and decided to sit and wait in a cafe located in the basement of the Holt office building. (As a side note: if I haven’t mentioned it before, there are cafes EVERYWHERE in Seoul. You can scarcely travel a city block without coming across at least a few cafes in store front windows, office buildings, apartment complexes, and shopping malls.)
After about 15 minutes in the cafe, we decided to head over to the office to wait for Brooks. When we got there, Brooks and his foster mom were waiting for us. As soon as we got off the elevator, we heard him say, “eomma!” when he saw Bri.
Our second meeting with him was in a different room with different toys. He really enjoyed playing in the Cozy Coupes that they had in the room, and I got to have fun pushing him around in one of the Cozy Coupes as another adoptive father pushed his son around in a different Cozy Coupe. We played in a ball pit and on a small playset with a slide. We played with cars and a small toy facade of a house, among other things.
He is quite the little ham. He seems to know how cute he is and he seems to enjoy it when people are watching him.
It was a bit of sensory overload for Brooks. He wanted to do absolutely everything all at once. If he heard another toy being played with, he sprinted off to investigate and try to commandeer that toy — usually successfully. We definitely understand why his foster mom described his personality as “active!” on our question sheet.
Overall, the second meeting/playdate was a lot of fun. We got a lot of smiles and belly laughs out of him. He certainly seemed happy and comfortable to be playing with us. Bri even got a hug from him when he was upset that he couldn’t play with a toy that another child was playing with.
Like the first meeting, the second was over in a flash. We had to stick around with the other adoptive families to talk with the social worker about our court hearing. Brooks did not want to leave the room and kept sneaking back in to play while his foster mom was packing up. Like I said, the boy is a ham.
We had a brief orientation and headed to a nearby Mexican restaurant called Gusto Taco. The restaurant is in Mapo-gu within walking distance of the Holt office. It came highly recommended by other families. Gusto Taco is a very cool little restaurant owned by an American who moved to South Korea with his family. The food was delicious, and we even got to sit and chat with the owner for a while who was incredibly nice and helpful. If you’re ever in Mapo-gu, you have to check out Gusto Taco.
After our late lunch at Gusto Taco, we headed over to a Cold Stone across the street (continuing on our theme of defaulting to familiar-looking places). We relaxed for a while as we continued to discuss our second meeting with Brooks and our upcoming court date before taking the subway back to our hotel.
On Friday, we woke up very early to get ready for our hearing. We were required to be at the Holt office by 9:00 a.m. where Holt had arranged for a shuttle bus to take us and the 5 other adoptive families to court. The early morning commute on the subway wasn’t too bad, even if very warm in my full suit and behind a COVID mask. We arrived at the office early and waited as the other families arrived. Around 9:00 a.m., we all loaded a very nice shuttle bus to the family court in Gangnam (yes, that Gangnam).
Everybody was excited and a little anxious. We were thankful that we were able to chat with the other families on the way. We were relieved to find out that we weren’t the only ones who were unsure of what to expect.
Like some of the other families, we had crammed for the hearing like we were studying for a test. We had a list of questions that we knew the judge might ask us, primarily on topics like our motivation for adopting, our motivation for adopting from South Korea, our parenting philosophy, and what our plans were for taking care of him once we were home and back to work. We also went over some of the answers we gave to questions in our home study because we knew the judge would have also reviewed those.
We got to the courthouse a little before 10:00 a.m. and were led in by our translators. We got to the floor for the hearings and waited in a hallway outside the judge’s chambers. The hearings were scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. and run in approximately 10-15 minute increments. A little after 10:00 a.m., the judge arrived and the hearing schedule was posted. We were slated to go 5th out of 6 families.
We waited as the other families went through and talked with us about their questions. Most of the other families were asked questions about how their other children would adjust to having an adopted sibling. We were the only couple there that did not have any other children, so we assumed that we would get the types of questions we had prepared for.
A little after 11:00 a.m., we were called in. The courtroom was small and full of dark woods and colors. It was not unlike some courtrooms I’ve appeared in back home. When we walked in, the interpreters were seated at one table facing the judge and we were instructed to sit at the other. The only other people in the courtroom were the clerk, court reporter, and bailiff.
The questions began almost immediately without even giving us a chance to greet the judge with, “[a]nyeonghaseo! Mannaseo bangabsuebnida,” (“Hello! It’s nice to meet you”) as we had been instructed to do. The questions were primarily about how we would care for Brooks and what we would do for childcare after returning to work. There were questions about what kind of support system we had at home, how our families felt about the adoption, and whether there were other kids Brooks’ age that he could play with. We were also asked about our motivation to adopt and our motivation for adopting from Korea.
In all, there were more questions than we were expecting, but there was nothing surprising about the questions that we were asked. Our hearing took just under ten minutes. When it was concluded, the judge said that she would grant preliminary approval to adopt!
After the hearing, all of the families walked to a nearby Korean barbeque restaurant for lunch. It was nice to talk with them and get to know them better. Having other families here with us going through the same thing has been immensely helpful.
We are so grateful for the experiences we had in meeting our son and so thankful that the court hearing went smoothly. Many prayers were answered, and we have been saying many more prayers of thanksgiving.
Pro Gloria Dei.