James and Aaron Black will awaken this morning to find a living room awash in gifts: a motorized jeep, an easel, enough stuffed animals to open a plush zoo. As the boys shred reams of wrapping paper, Daniel and Deborah Black will simply watch their finest Christmas gifts ever: James, who is 6, and Aaron, 2.
The Blacks, a military family who live at Bolling Air Force Base in Southwest, are parents this Christmas to three children -- their newborn, Danielle, and the boys, who were adopted last month after a bureaucratic battle that lasted years.
"All those strings, all that red tape from the government was finally gone," said Daniel Black, a chief master sergeant at the Pentagon.
Across town, in the Petworth section of Northwest, Diane Harvey, her son, Bryan, 18, and her daughter, Tonya, 14, will rise this morning to welcome Christmas and a newcomer in their house. She is Devyn; she is a year old, and she is theirs.
"You hear about people finding babies in trash cans and, jeez, we've got all this love to give," Harvey said. "So I said, 'Gimmee.' We'll do right by them."
Today, less than a month after officially giving James, Aaron and Devyn the safety and warmth of a new home, the Blacks and the Harveys will shower the children with presents in big shiny boxes.
The children needed these parents. James and Aaron were removed from their original parents, who had starved them of attention, stimulation and love. James has learning disabilities; Aaron has leukemia and developmental problems.
Devyn was born to a teen-age mother who already has a child at home and a father who said he wasn't ready to keep a child.
The Blacks never expected to take in a perfect child. They wanted whoever had been born and was not wanted. The Blacks lived in Nebraska when they became foster parents to James in 1983. The state tried to keep the original family together: When Aaron was born two years later, the Blacks agreed to take him in. The boys arrived dirty, ill, neglected.
"Their idea of playing with toys was to hit each other with them," Daniel Black said. "They never had toys before. That first day, I was scared to death of them, all dirty and skinny."
There would be a long, frustrating path to adoption, through social service agencies in Nebraska, California and the District. As the Air Force transferred Daniel around the country, the Blacks collected two massive books of documents chronicling their battle to win the boys.
In the District, they found a government that had to invent new forms to handle the interstate adoption, a government with what the parents complained is an unusually secretive approach to adoption.
"When you're a foster parent, you prepare yourself to give them back," Black said. "It was four years of torture. They're yours but not yours. You have to call for approval for everything."
The day before the Blacks moved from California to Washington, a judge still had not approved moving the boys out of state. Daniel Black had to carry the boys and their luggage into the courtroom, stand before the judge and announce, "We are moving to Washington tomorrow. We are taking our boys unless you stop us."
The judge let them go.
In the summer of 1986, Aaron became ill. It was leukemia. The social workers heard the news and approached the Blacks. Do you still want him, they asked. The Blacks didn't understand the question.
"It was like 'You got a bad puppy; do you want to give him back?' " Black recalled. "It's not the kids' fault if they're sick. These kids give us more in life even with their problems than anything I can imagine."
Wednesday night, as the family prepared to drive downtown to see the National Christmas Tree, Aaron, whose developmental problems have thus far left him without words, hurried over to the Blacks' decorated tree.
He unhooked a candy cane and offered it, and a hug, to a visitor.
Not to be outdone, James ran into the kitchen and pulled out a tub of homemade candy.
Then his mother told him to get ready to go. "Now we don't need anybody's permission to take them places," she said. "This is the first Christmas where they are ours."
Devyn Harvey won't remember this, her first Christmas, but her new family will have plenty of stories to tell her about it. Four generations of the family will gather this weekend and Devyn will be the prime attraction.
She is a wide-eyed girl with a smile that manages to curl up and down at the same time. She was only 3 weeks old when her mother got the call from a social worker, asking if Diane Harvey was still interested in a child.
Harvey, a legal secretary at a District law firm, had seen lawyers work on plenty of child neglect cases, and one day she decided to adopt. For four months, she went to the District's adoption classes.
"A lot of people thought I was crazy," Harvey said. "They said you've got two kids and they're older already. Why do you want to start over?"
But Harvey, a single mother, had already discussed it with Tonya and Bryan and they were thrilled by the prospect. So their mother submitted to the city's background checks and police clearance and physical exam. And when she had graduated from the class and won several levels of approval, she waited.
For nine months.
"Then one day, I'm working at my word processor and the social worker calls and says, 'I've got a baby for you.' I just started crying," Harvey said yesterday as she and Tonya prepared for the holiday.
Devyn had been born prematurely to a mother who was on welfare and an unemployed man who said he wasn't ready to be a father. The Harveys had together selected a name months before. Now they had a baby to give it to.
Devyn came home in February. It took the rest of the year to make the adoption official. Paperwork had to be completed. There were lawyers and social workers to see. Last month, a judge finally decreed that this child would be Devyn Harvey.
No longer would Harvey have to report to the government about her daughter, have to ask permission to take the child anywhere.
"My mother smiles a lot now," Tonya said. "She enjoys having a baby so she can carry someone. We all sit around here on the floor and we laugh while the baby crawls around us. She'll do anything to stay out of that playpen."
Tonya is knitting a latchhook design for her baby sister for Christmas. Devyn will also get books, coordination toys and all kinds of dolls.
After which everyone expects the baby to resume her favorite activity, chasing people around the house. Devyn, who wears white shoes with tiny bells on top, scoots around the house quite nimbly for someone who hasn't yet mastered the art of standing up.
The Harveys are carefully monitoring every utterance for anything that might resemble a word. Tonya said she thinks she has detected an occasional "stop" or "look."
And Diane Harvey is certain she has heard something that sounds like "Mmmmmma," a sound she is eager to hear again after all these years. Being a mother again has given the house on New Hampshire Avenue the kind of life it hasn't had in a long time, Harvey said.
"This child has got so many godparents around here, I don't think she will ever want for anything, ever," she said.
This Christmas, the Harveys and the Blacks wrapped more presents than ever before.
"We could have used a few elves," Daniel Black said. "But we're not complaining. We have the greatest gift you could want. People live in a dream world when it comes to adoption. They want a perfect child. But what about all the children who have been born? Who will take care of them?"