As I stared at the clouds from my airplane window, I worried about how my son would react to me. I wondered how we would communicate since I didn’t speak Arabic and he didn’t know English. I worried about how his little heart must’ve felt for the 46 months of his life that we had lived apart. Most of all, I worried about my ability to express to him how much I loved him and how receptive he would be to that love.
I had promised my 16-year-old, Aadam, that I would get a professional soccer ball for his new little brother. Play would be a great way to break the ice, I thought. I FaceTimed Aadam from a store in Meknes so he could pick the perfect ball. To our disappointment, we had to settle for a bouncy ball imprinted in a ‘Manchester United’ design.
I held the ball in my lap and then placed it besides me as I sat in the small, airless waiting room of the orphanage. I didn’t want anything to get in my way as I waited for my son to finally be in my arms. 14 months had passed since my first encounter with him. 14 months had passed since he captured my heart while I vacationed in Morocco. I was anxious and excited, overwhelmed and overjoyed. I felt grateful to God for allowing us the opportunity to grow our family through adoption. As I waited, I imagined his fear. I imagined showing him my love. I couldn’t wait to show him how much I adore him and that he is safe with us. I tried to spend every breath in prayer, knowing that God was with me as we began this amazing adventure.
My heart melted when the nurse brought him into the room. The first thing I noticed was those big beautiful eyes that I had fallen in love a year before. I also noticed how much smaller he was than I remembered.
“That’s Mama,” she told him as she led him towards me. I wanted to scoop him up immediately, but I knew that I had to give him time and space to feel comfortable. I held his hand. He looked nervous and excited and overwhelmed all at once. He looked at me, and then he looked away. I whispered “Kam Breegh” (I love you) into his ears.
He could not keep his gaze. He could not sit still. He looked at me, and then he looked away at everyone else and everything else in the room. I could sense his anxiety and confusion. He has such an expressive little face. As I watched him, he stopped and stared at something besides me. I had almost forgotten the ball that I had brought with me! Within a moment, his expression went from anxiety to complete joy. He was kicking, throwing, and bouncing the ball in every direction of the tiny visitation room. Things were falling over, and another baby in the room almost got hit in the face. He couldn’t contain his energy or his laughter and it all came out on that ball.
We found ourselves laughing out loud and playing. Our relationship developed in the most effortless way possible, through play. I couldn’t have ever imagined the power of the ball on making us a family. It was magical. We brought the ball on every visitation until he came home. But there was one problem. There was no space to play in that tiny room. The ball was disrupting sleeping babies and sick patients and the hospital staff. With the assumption that there must be a designated play area, we asked the nurse.
“No play area. This is a hospital. This is no space for a ball here,” she responded. It was frustrating and shocking. “No play area for 60 children under the age of 8? So what did these children do all day? How had my son spent the last 4 years of his life?” It turned out that he hadn’t seen the sun in 6 months, when a group of Italian volunteers took him on a trip to McDonald’s. The children of LeNid lived in isolation in a room on the top story of a hospital. The room had little natural sunlight, no access to the outdoors and no space to play. They sat for hours on end. It helped explain Diouri’s extreme joy and excitement over the ball. I had so many questions. The more I learned, the more shocked I became. The more shocked I became, the more clear it also became to me that my adoption wasn’t enough. There was so much more I needed to do for the orphans of Morocco.
We moved from the tiny room to a narrow hallway. I knew I was inconveniencing the nurses, the staff, and the children. Play became our method of communication. It had the power to bridge the language barriers as well as emotional barriers. It became a necessity for us.
Within a few days, we had been disrupting sleeping babies for far too long. Determined to find a space to play, I discovered a bare, flat rooftop. There, we had the sun, we had open space, and we had the ball. Most of all, we had amazing squeals of laughter that I will never forget for the rest of my life.
I stood on that rooftop and imagined a space for children to laugh and play for many years to come.
It’s been 2 years since I brought my son home to Virginia. It’s been 10 months since my sister Amina and I founded BLOOM Charity. Today, the children of LeNid have their very own rooftop PlayGarden.
We can continue to provide laughter, hope, and healing to orphans in Morocco. I hope you will join me and support our mission. #PlantTheSeedsOfLove