Babies with Scabies and Other Complaints

Adopting children from a foreign country is so glamorous, so heroic, attention-getting, show-stopping. If you adopt a child from another country, your friends will admire you and strangers will call you a saint. You, on the other hand, know the truth. You’re going to another country to adopt a child because you will go to any lengths required to have a child. Let’s be frank.

Still, of the adjectives above, one rings true. Heroic.

The scene is a packed to the gills airplane flying from Managua, Nicaragua, to New Orleans, USA. It’s 1988. The seventeen-month old boy my husband and I have just adopted from a Managua orphanage is lying on my chest, his little fingers playing with a mole below my clavicle. He is sick and sweating, the front of my shirt is soaked, and he has little dots all over his arms and legs. Only later will a fellow adoptive mom of Nicaraguan children tell me back in Milwaukee that the little dots are scabies. “Rub him all over with a cut lemon,” she told me.

Ahead several rows is the couple who adopted two children, a 3-year old girl and a 5-year old boy if I am remembering their ages correctly. Both children have lead poisoning; their new parents learned this while waiting in the orphanage director’s office to meet them for the first time.

Midway through the flight, the new dad stands up. With his son in his arms, he starts to make his way to the back of the plane. It is immediately clear that the boy’s diarrhea has soiled his pants and those of his father’s. They are a stinking mess as they come down the aisle and the plane’s passengers let them know. There is much waving at the air, holding noses, muffled giggles, and barely suppressed anger. Disgusting is the mood that wafts up from the passengers to meet the tremendous odor of father and son passing by.

I look at the dad and think I am lucky it isn’t my boy.

After several minutes the dad and his boy emerge from the tiny bathroom, their pants soaking wet from the scrubbing. The dad, a New Englander who showed himself to be unflappable and so very well-prepared for a sojourn in Sandinista Nicaragua, was calm to the point of unnatural, Jesus calm, I would call it. I admired him, still thankful it was him, not me.

All is well. We travel on. People uncover their noses. Normal chatter resumes. A half hour, maybe more, passes.

The dad stands again. Makes his way with his boy, the front of his khaki pants brown with the stain of his new son’s diarrhea, back to the tiny bathroom. His expression is unchanged. He isn’t embarrassed or harried. He is simply carrying his boy, the boy who became his just a few days before. He is loyal to his boy. Already.

And I think this – I love you. I love you for being this boy’s father, for being heroic in a way that almost no one will understand. I admire you for being so matter-of-fact about what needs to be done and for taking care of your boy.

I want to be like you.

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