"A Hat Just Like Dad's"

It was just a hat. But then it was The Hat—the one we gave to our son at our first meeting, and that matched his Daddy's.

Forging Family Connection in Transracial Adoption

The afternoon we left Addis Ababa, it was pouring rain. Hardly surprising, given that it was the rainy season, but it made getting the hat back much more difficult.

Daniel’s hat. The same one as Daddy’s. In a newly created transracial family, this small similarity was one of our only tangible links. Something that said: We belong together. We’d brought the matching blue baseball caps of our favorite local team on our first visit to our new five-year-old son and one-year-old daughter. Daniel wore his the entire day. After days of eating and playing and meetings and farewell ceremonies, we were heading home at last. But where was the hat!?

Hours before, in my tired, feeble attempts at making sure we had enough bottles, wipes, changes of clothes, and snacks for our epic trip home, I realized we’d forgotten the hat. It was at the care center. When we picked up the children for the final time, they wore traditional white clothes. I noticed another boy wearing the Hawaiian shirt Daniel had worn on our first visit, so some other child our son’s age was probably wearing the hat, kicking a soccer ball around the courtyard.

We drove in the rain through the city, surrounded by piles of suitcases and other families tense with exhaustion and nervous anticipation of 24 hours of traveling with newly adopted children. I watched the faces of my children. The baby, up later than she was used to, was wired and curious, peeking out from the carrier at the rainy city. Daniel was quiet and attentive, halfheartedly responding to the driver’s jokes and attempts to make him smile.

After I realized that the hat was at the care center, we begged our driver and guesthouse manager to help us get it back. With several airport pickups and drop-offs to arrange, and the constant rainstorms, we got little assurance that the hat would get to us in time. I tried to explain the significance of the hat. Of course we could buy a new one; of course it was just a hat. But it was The Hat. The one we gave to our son the first time we saw him as our son. The hat in the video of our meeting day that we will watch over and over.

After several phone calls and conversations with other drivers, a plan was made. We were not told the plan, in case it did not work. But it did.

Our driver suddenly pulled off on the side of a roundabout and a young social worker from the care center ran up to our van, holding a newspaper over his head and carrying the precious blue hat. My husband retrieved it and put it on Daniel’s head. His tiny, serious brown face broke open in a wide smile. America, here we come!

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