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Mary McGrory

Giving Thanks for The Gift of Family

By Mary McGrory
Thursday, November 28, 2002; Page A47

Right from the start, you knew it was going to be a different sort of day at the District of Columbia Superior Court. At the entrance, between the screening machines, was a large arc of pastel balloons. Upstairs in the atrium, stuffed toys were everywhere.

The District of Columbia was observing National Adoption Day, and 22 children were officially becoming part of 15 families.

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Across the nation, more than 1,400 children began belonging to new parents. Some were related to their adoptive parents. One valiant woman with five children of her own took in five more from a bereaved family. Some were strangers. But in the H. Carl Moultrie Building, everyone was happy and a little proud of themselves, and although it is rare in those precincts, they were being exhorted to enjoy themselves and partake of the festive lunch awaiting them.

Many of the speakers had had their own encounters with the process that was being celebrated. A beaming Lee Satterfield, the presiding judge of the new, hard-fought-for Family Court, has adopted two children. Rufus G. King, the imposing, bow-tied chief judge of Superior Court who is also an adoptive parent, testified that "there are few moments of greater joy than when you receive a decree of adoption." He added dryly, and to appreciative laughter, "My son is 15 now, and I could tell you other things, but becoming his father makes me proudest and happiest."

Judges usually try to suggest a vast distance between themselves and the people before them. But in the atrium, speakers emphasized what they have in common. Their remarks were punctuated by the occasional piercing wail or definitive squawk, which would perhaps constitute contempt of court in another context but received indulgent smiles on Saturday.

Mayor Anthony Williams, wearing a bright yellow T-shirt (for his next stop after the adoption celebration), is one of the District's most distinguished adoptees. Given up by his young mother, he also was rejected by foster parents. Understandably, in those circumstances he did not trouble to talk, and at age 3 he was considered retarded until his marvelous mother came along to claim him, defend him and persuade her husband to adopt him. "I can see myself in these children," he said.

The sense of possibility in the air was touched upon by the heroine of the day, WRC-TV anchorwoman Barbara Harrison, who served as mistress of ceremonies and said simply, "All things are possible." Many serve to make the happy endings that saw children from toddlers to teens receiving powerful reasons for thanksgiving, but Barbara Harrison stands out, because for the past 15 years she has run a program called "Wednesday's Child" on WRC every Wednesday (and repeated on Thursday and Sunday). "Wednesday's child is full of woe," runs the old saw. Harrison has done her level best to de-woe the wistful wanderers who go from foster family to foster family and long for a home.

She introduced the new family members the way she does on television when she is trying to move or shame the childless into thinking how much their lives would be improved by having a child around the house. (She herself is the mother of eight -- four from her first marriage, four who came with her second.) She gave the dispositions and hobbies of the lucky ones. She presented 13-year-old Jonathan, who read a poem written by a social worker that pointed out the needs answered on both sides of the bargain.

"If you come home from work

And are missing a spark

You could comfort a child, who is scared of the dark."

Right after the show, Harrison hurried off to tape a heartbroken teenager with three brothers who are to be adopted by a family that won't take him. "People are afraid of teenagers, I know that," he says. Says Harrison, "I hope they'll reconsider, or maybe a family that will take them all will come forward."

At the party, children raced across the floor, hotly pursued by their new parents. A judge-magistrate, Juliet McKenna, and her husband, Doug Kendall, a lawyer, accepted congratulations for Miracle, their 3-year-old daughter, "a life force" in brown velvet.

Miracle is black and her mother and father are white. Judge McKenna said she didn't hesitate before seeking a transracial adoption: "Most of the babies available were African American." Miracle was one of 11 children born to a drug addict and an ex-convict who gave her the resounding name. She has lived for two years with her doting dad and mom.

Judge McKenna says she knows of only one cultural issue -- hair. "I had to learn braids," she said. For the big day, she had arranged her daughter's hair with dozens of iridescent glass beads. Miracle looked like a floating rainbow, which seemed quite appropriate for the jubilant day.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company