Four-year-old Ila Yslande Ann Hubner waddled into the Frederick County Courthouse the other morning, arms flailing, legs kicking this way and that, babbling about the Cookie Monster.
"Everything is 'Cookie Monster,' I don't know why," said Christie Hubner. A year ago, when Hubner and her husband, Dave, took custody of Ila, she knew nothing about Cookie Monster. She was an orphan in Port-au-Prince, frightened, hungry and stranded in the rubbled aftermath of the Haitian earthquake.
A judge legally blessed the Hubners' adoption Thursday, completing a four-year quest that seemed endlessly maddening before it turned magical.
"Ila, do you want to say something?" asked Maryland Circuit Court Judge G. Edward Dwyer.
"Hi," she answered, her voice as light as a feather.
"Congratulations," the judge said. "You're now official."
Ila's path to Frederick, where she lives with two siblings and her adoptive parents, has been long and arduous. Abandoned by her mother as an infant, she lived in an orphanage in the Haitian capital that was upended during last year's massive quake.
The Hubners - she was a museum curator before becoming a mother, he's a director for an aircraft owners and pilots association - began the adoption process in 2006, but their custody of Ila was delayed by one confounding bureacratic snafu after another.
Initially, the Hubners say, they were told they would get Ila in seven or eight months, but the time frame kept expanding as Haitian officials cited the need to make one more effort to find the girl's mother.
"They'd say, 'She may be in a village four hours from here, or a 12-hour donkey ride,'" Dave Hubner recalled. For months, they worked with one Haitian official, only to learn that he had no authority to give them Ila.
The massive earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, moved officials to speed up dozens of Haitian adoptions. Eleven days after the quake, a U.S. military aircraft delivered Ila to the airport in Orlando, where the Hubners were waiting with a pink car seat.
"If it wasn't for the earthquake, she'd still be there," Dave Hubner said. "Out of tragedies come blessings."
The Hubners, both in their mid 30s, fell in love at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, where they hatched a vision of a future that would include two or three children. The idea of adopting kids came to Dave during a vacation in Mexico, where he and his wife encountered waves of poor children begging in the streets of Tijuana.
Adoption became something of a calling, said the Hubners, both of whom are devout Christians.
Christie Hubner gave birth to their eldest child, Mathis, five years ago. The couple traveled to Texas to adopt their second child, Jonas, several days after his biological mother gave birth in 2008. By then, the Hubners had begun their adoption quest in Haiti, where Christie's mother had worked as a missionary.
For the past year, the Hubners have learned to keep up with the often-chaotic rythms of parenting three small children. Ila has adjusted to her new setting, although not without challenges.
When they brought her home, Ila's teeth were brown. She liked to shovel food into her mouth with both hands, and she couldn't fall asleep unless one of her parents was with her. Sometimes she cried so hard that her pajamas became soaked with sweat.
A dentist has cleaned her teeth, her mother said, and she has learned, like her siblings, to hide food she dislikes inside her napkin. Falling asleep on her own is no longer a problem.
Ila's penchant for biting other children has been more difficult to conquer. At home, she bit Mathis hard enough to make him bleed from his torso. At preschool, Sunday school and the YMCA, she has bit other children.
"She didn't know how to express herself," Christie Hubner said, adding that Ila's biting subsided as the year progressed.
When they brought her home, they worried about Ila's health: Would American doctors find something that the Haitians had overlooked?
And what about her psychological well-being? Would residual signs of trauma surface as she got older? Could a little girl experience abandonment without there being a price?
Their worries are not solely focused on the adopted children. How would their biological son, a blond, take to life with two dark-skinned siblings who seemed to arrive from nowhere?
So far, the Hubners say, their family is functioning quite nicely, give or take a daily meltdown or three.
Over the course of the year, there have been surprises. African American strangers have volunteered to help the Hubners, both white, with unchartered territory such as tending to Ila's kinky hair.
At Sunday school, when she was separated from other children because of biting, Ila picked up rudimentary sign language from a teacher, and can use her fingers to say "Mommy," "Daddy" and "I love you."
She also has shown a sense of style, delighting her parents with her insistence on wearing skirts and patent-leather shoes.
On Thursday, Ila wore a pink skirt and maroon jacket to court. She watched as her mother took the stand, carrying her younger brother and describing a life of naps, school and visits to the Y.
"Kind of like a normal family," Christie Hubner said.
After a short drive home, the Hubners served coffee, quiche and muffins to the grandparents, aunts and uncles, while the children raced up and down the stairs and flopped on the couch.
Out came the cake, decorated with a smiling blue face.
"Cookie Monster!" Ila yelped, sticking her fingers deep into the icing and savoring the sweetness.