First meetings

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It was a sultry Summer afternoon in a small village in Hampshire.  Two people were sitting on the bench outside the village shop.  To any passer-by it would have looked like a normal day – nothing seems out of the ordinary, just a couple enjoying a quiet, lazy, sunny afternoon in a beautiful picture-postcard village.  If you looked closely, you might have noticed that the couple maybe looked anxious and weren’t talking.  You might have noticed that they looked a little too closely at every car that drove past them.  You might have noticed that they looked slightly emotional.  You might have noticed that the same two people kept popping out of the shop to ask a question and looking expectantly. 

But today – a normal day in August 2008 –  was about to become the most significant moment in their lives.  That couple was my wife, Swee and me and today was going to be the day that we met Mac.

A small VW polo pulled up.  Out came our social worker, Denise, followed by a small, wan, skinny eight year old.  He was dressed in his school uniform of red jumper and charcoal trousers, all covered with a thin, slightly worn cagoule.  He and Denise went to the boot of the car and took out his scooter:

“Do you want to see my skills?”, he said,

“Of course”, I replied.

And with that he scooted onto the recreation ground and started to try and do some tricks – trying hard to impress as if he was in some juvenile talent contest – doing everything to impress us and win the competition.  There was an intensity and concentration in his trying to show how good he was with his scooter, which was at once endearing and heartbreaking.  Here was a little boy, desperate for his own new family, trying to make sure that finally he was the one that would be chosen.

Of course, what Mac didn’t know was that we were already in love – as soon as we saw his face we knew he was ours.  As soon as we saw him we knew he was our son and that our family was complete. As soon as we saw him we were desperate to get him home and love him and spoil him and give him all the things that we had dreamed about.

However, we all needed to play things cool.  This meeting was unusual and unorthodox.  The usual wisdom in the adoption process is that there should be no meetings between prospective parents and child until after there has been a formal matching decision – that is a panel of the great and the good working for the adoption agency have decided that they agree that the match is a good one and should go ahead. 

However, this situation was slightly different.  Although our social workers and their management had agreed that this was a good potential pairing, the formal process had not yet happened.  This was because Mac had expressed a desire to have some say in the process himself.  Mac had already had a failed adoptive placement which had been successful for his younger brother.  In fact he was now at an age (eight years old) where the received wisdom is that adoption is less likely to be successful and that permanent fostering was a more likely option.  But Mac’s determination to have a family of his own, and to be like his younger brother, won through, and the social workers were prepared to let him have some say in the selection.  So, rather than him trying to impress us, Swee and I were trying hard to make sure that he would want to be with us and that he would be happy with the match.

After he had scooted around a little more, we went into the local shop to get him a snack.  He chose his favourite – a thick chocolate milkshake and some extra strong mints.  My mum was one of the volunteers in the shop, and was working there that afternoon.  However, all the family had been given strict instructions not to identify themselves at that point as it was important not to overwhelm Mac with too much information.  She took his money and pretended that she didn’t know that anything special was going on.  Then, my dad arrived, quickly followed by my sister – all by coincidence, of course!  Actually many of our friends happened to pop over to the shop and the recreation ground that afternoon.  The great thing about living in a village is that news travel fast with no effort at all, especially when you are trying to keep a secret.

After a little more playing in the playground, it was time for Mac to go home.  He packed up his scooter, got into the back of the car and Denise drove him back to his foster home in the New Forest.

We sat down and Mum joined us and we just sobbed for joy, all of the years of stress and uncertainty finally coming out in our tears.  It was so unreal. 

“He’s so beautiful!”, Swee said.

I wasn’t able to speak – I didn’t know that I could add anything of any use.  The meeting had been profound and one of the most emotional of our lives as everything we had read about Mac became real. 

Love was instant.  There was a hormonal surge to care for this quirky, loving, sad, damaged and charming boy.  We had found Mac and it was if some primeval urge had kicked in to look after and protect this small, vulnerable child.  There was a need to give him all of the things that he had never had and to right all of the wrongs that had been done to him in his life so far.

Denise called later that night to say how well she thought the meeting had gone and to say it had had a profound effect on Mac as well.  As she was driving him home, he opened up to her in a way that he never had, asking questions about his birth family and why things had happened the way they had and why he had to leave them.  It seemed he was already emotionally preparing himself to join a new family – our family.

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