In the Netherlands, I am told, it is customary to congratulate a person’s parents at a birthday party. After all, it’s the anniversary of a happy occasion: the day they became parents.
Unless, of course, their child was adopted on a different day.
In families like ours, we have two days to celebrate each year. The day the Kid was born, which we celebrate with American traditions like a party with her friends, cake, and presents. Birthdays are important, and I celebrate heartily each year in honor of the day she came into the world, and with joy that she has lived to be one year older. (After all, the alternative is too awful to contemplate.)
But that doesn’t mean I can ignore the other day. June 17th doesn’t mean much to the Kid, but for me and KPD, it’s the anniversary of one of the happiest days of our lives. I can remember the anxiety of court, and I remember also floating through the day, not sure where to put my feelings until we got all the paperwork done and I could go to the International Call Center and call my mom.
Before Kid came home, I read a lot of books written by adult adoptees and experts on adoption. The consensus opinion was that there’s nothing wrong with celebrating Adoption Day (known in other families by various names such as Gotcha Day, Airplane Day, or Family Day) but that it should always hold a second place status to the adopted child’s birthday. That was okay with me. After all, an adoption anniversary is more like a wedding anniversary, really. Our wedding anniversary celebrates the day KPD and I became a family, and Adoption Day celebrates the day Kid joined the family. I didn’t want to have big parties to celebrate Adoption Day, I just wanted to acknowledge it each year within my own family.
And to do this, I wanted a tradition. It should be something to do with food, to mirror birthday cake. And ideally, it would be an appropriate symbol that would encompass various ideas to do with adoption: the fact of two families blending together, the mixed feelings some adoptees have when they contemplate the fact of their adoptions, and the fact that our bond is forever. At first I thought a black and white cookie might be good, but I don’t like black and white cookies particularly, and the division between the black and white seemed too stark.
Then it hit me: vanilla fudge swirl ice cream! It was perfect. Dark and light to symbolize the feelings, sweet for the celebration, and although you can clearly see the chocolate and vanilla, they are inseparable, just as our family is now an indivisible unit.
For years, that’s what we did. We ate vanilla fudge swirl ice cream while I told the story of Kid’s adoption in as much detail as I could. But a strange thing has been happening. Vanilla fudge twirl ice cream has been disappearing from the freezers at local stores. And this year, when KPD went out to buy our Adoption Day ice cream, he couldn’t find any. In desperation, he called me from the store, and in a stroke of inspiration, I told him, “get Neapolitan. It will have to do.”
But here’s the thing. Neapolitan isn’t just a substitute for vanilla fudge twirl. In the end, I think it’s better. After all, there are three people in our family, not two. We could, technically, be divided. However, never cleanly. Some of the Kid’s strawberry has mixed in with my chocolate and will never come off, no matter what happens. And while we still function as individuals just fine, we’re best all together.
So I think next year we might celebrate with Neapolitan ice cream again. One thing is sure, though. We will celebrate. Because the day you became a parent isn’t something you can forget.