If you stop and think about it, what's being celebrated is the permanent end of another family in order to complete your own. Does that seem like a happy occasion? Not to me. In some instances it can be a painful reminder of a time when what was considered normal (even if it was, in actual fact, dysfunctional) was ripped away, and a new life, new people, and new home was forced upon a child who had no choice in the matter. In some cases, like ours, a new country, new culture, and new language were also a part of the "gotcha" experience.
Secondary to that, when you hear someone in the movies or on TV say the word, "gotcha!", it isn't usually in a happy family environment. It's either a villain, trying to capture a child or adult who was running away, or it's said when an entrapment is successful or when the bad guy is finally caught by the authorities. In that setting, "gotcha" is a way of proclaiming that the person being "got" had been captured, with no ability to fight or get away, though that's desperately what they are trying to do. So why would that be a term that I would want to use in relation to our five adopted kids?
It's not that we don't mark the days, weeks, months, and years that they have lived with us. We do. The kids will sometimes ask how long they have been in the United States, and we count out on our fingers the number of months since we arrived at our home. They will generalize, "I've been here almost # years, and..." when talking about an experience that they've had. They will reference life "before" and "after" the adoption, and talk about "back then" vs. "now" - but it's all done in a very normal, matter-of-fact way. And maybe that's because we are very matter-of-fact people, or perhaps it's just because it's easier to divide their lives between the past and the present. We all have occasions in our lives that we base our timeline on, right? A birthday, a death, a wedding, a major vacation, a move, a job change...or an adoption.
Whatever the case, one thing that our kids know is that we didn't look at them as a "thing" to be gotten... God put our family together, much like our marriage - for better or for worse. Our "gotcha" day was not one for the picture books, nor is it something that any of us look back on with fond memories. According to the kids, we were not what they were expecting, and as for us? Well, we had no clue how to interact with these five people who were supposed to be joyous (according to our sources) about being adopted, but glared at us like we were the enemy. On "gotcha day" half of the kids flat out refused to take a family photo, even when the social worker begged them to do so, and those who did were barely smiling. The child welfare department "requested" that we host an adoption party at their offices, to celebrate this exciting day, but cake and Coke didn't make our kids happy about their future or want to sit with us.
In short, our family is only where we are today because of God's abundant grace and our gut obedience to follow Him into the storm, trusting that He would not allow us to be drowned by the waves.Nothing about that legally binding piece of paper or the mandatory party made a difference for our kids or us, but time has. You may get to the one year anniversary and not feel like there's anything to celebrate, or start to notice old patterns of behavior pop up. Our oldest child expressed some serious rage at me around that time, and we once again had to work through a new phase of adoption shock (I don't know if that's a real term or not, but it's what I'm calling it - and hope to write more about it in the future). But with time comes change and healing, so if you are in the midst of a fog...give it time. The day that made us a legal family was just the start of a long road. It's God who is slowly changing us from a reluctant group of roommates into a family who cares for each other and faces life as a united front.
Please Note! If you celebrate the day you became the legal parent to your child(ren), I completely recognize that every adoption story and family is different, so please don't leave a comment from a gut reaction to defend yourself. I just feel it's important to get a different perspective on the idea, especially with older kids, and encourage introspection to see if you're celebrating "gotcha day" for for the kids...or for yourself.
ALSO...while we don't celebrate the day that put a permanent end to our kid's hopes that things would work out with their biological family, we DO celebrate the month of June. That's not when they first arrived in the U.S., but it is the month that God welcomed each of the five into His family. This eternal adoption is the whole reason we followed His calling to earthly adoption. Watching them grow as Christians has been one of the most fulfilling experiences we've ever had, and definitely worth celebrating!