With just two days’ notice back in 1975, Liz and Joe McGeary hopped on a plane to Colombia with plans of adopting a toddler.
The Merrick couple instead found themselves with a two-day-old infant.
That child, now 41-year-old Andrea Glassing, and her husband made a date earlier this year with that same adoption center in Bogota, Casa de la Madre y el Nino, which they discovered is still run by the director who so long ago had assisted her parents.
With a clearer path and far fewer crossed signals, Drew and Andrea Glassing in early May brought back their adopted son, Gabe.
“I think it’s an absolute miracle,” McGeary said, of her daughter’s return to Bogota to adopt a child of her own.
Gabe is turning a year old this week, and on Thanksgiving family members plan to converge at the Glassings’ Malverne home to celebrate his birthday and give thanks for any number of blessings, and Gabe, especially, Liz McGeary said.
“God has been so good to all of us,” McGeary said, giving way to a description of how “the newest addition to the family” is now pulling himself up and standing. “We are very, very thankful.”
And, speaking of gifts, the center’s director, Barbara de Vargas Escobar, spoke of the pleasure she and her colleagues feel when a child whose adoption they helped facilitate returns years later to adopt a child.
While all adoptions are special, she said, such return cases are “a very special blessing.” Besides reawakening lovely memories, it’s “a confirmation of the blossoming flowers our legacy has spread throughout the world.” It’s not unlike becoming a grandmother, she said in an email.
Such occasions are not all that frequent, she said, but do occur about two to three times a year. So far this year nearly 80 children have been matched with adoptive parents.
McGeary and her daughter marvel at how much has changed over the past four decades, pointing to a much clearer and smoother adoption process that includes stricter rules to safeguard the welfare of children; more background information available on the birth mother; and even the present-day documenting and instant sharing of each and every gurgle and lopsided grin, thanks to mobile devices.
Certainly, the underlying motivation and sentiments to adopt remain the same — the desire to give a child whose future was in question a loving home, and, in Glassing’s case, to pass along the good fortune that came her way four decades ago.
McGeary, whose husband, Joe, died in 2009, remarried and lives in Oceanside. “It was one of the most wonderful, smartest moves I’ve ever made,” she said, one that brought along the recent bonus of her eighth grandchild, Gabe.
The McGearys spoke of the ins and outs of their path in a 1975 Newsday Part II cover story on Long Island parents who were adopting from Colombia.
Two months after being notified in November 1974 that their application was accepted, Liz McGeary started writing two letters a week to the center, reiterating their interest in a girl of about 2 years old. Her two sons, then ages 6 and 7, took photos that were also mailed, showing the pink bedroom that was awaiting their hoped-for new little sister.
In April the couple was told on a Tuesday that a girl of 2 1⁄2 would be waiting for them that Thursday at the center. A New York City firefighter, Joe McGeary had already gotten clearance for leave at a moment’s notice.
Lollipops and teddy bear in hand, the two arrived at the center only to find that their toddler was actually 4, which raised concerns over the issues that a child — non-English speaking and about to start school — might face.
The only other available girl was two days old, McGeary said, and would they like to see her, asked Escobar, the director.
“The minute she was in my arms, I knew we would take her,” McGeary said in the Newsday article.
Anticipating a two-week stay, McGeary, a stay-at-home mom, remained in Bogota for nearly six weeks to complete the process, while her husband returned to Merrick to take care of paperwork stateside.
For several months after her homecoming, McGeary continued sending photos to the center staff — pictures of Andrea’s christening, her new brothers and their home, all to be tucked away in a center scrapbook.
And there those and the other photos remained for decades before being marveled at some 40 years later when the Glassings were in Bogota visiting the center.
Early in their marriage the couple had discussed adopting, went on to have two biological children — now 6 and 4 — and last year visited Colombia to gather information, as they picked up with their intentions to adopt, Glassing said.
It was on that trip that the scrapbook was brought out and opened to those images her mother had sent so many years earlier. Certainly Glassing knew her background story, but, “words are one thing,” she said. Seeing the photos, “it was kind of surreal. Then you know it’s for real.”
And, yes, she said — what with the photos and the same director — Glassing said she felt there was “some kind of synchronicity” at play.
There was still plenty of preparatory paperwork, she said, but the adoption process has become so much more straightforward and informative, bringing enhanced safeguards for the children involved.
When the couple arrived for their second visit in April of this year to meet Gabe, they had already received his photo, information on his birth mother, as well as his diaper size and the formula he was on, said Glassing, a former high school Spanish teacher. She and her husband, a harbor pilot in New York Harbor, had also taken classes on what to expect along the adoption path.
A child of two days old, as she, herself, had been, would never be allowed to be adopted now, she said. That’s in the wake of The Hague Convention, which established safeguards for children in intercountry adoptions and that’s been in force in the United States since 2008, according to Travel.state.gov.
Communication, too, has certainly come a long way. While McGeary in 1975 had to seek out a telephone in her hotel lobby, the Glassings turned to FaceTime, email and texting to stay in touch with well-wishers back home.
While her parents had few mementos of their trip to Bogota and all that ensued, other than letters written to family members, Glassing said, “we have everything documented” in photos and videos to share with Gabe.
Glassing said she hopes to encourage others to consider adopting — and that it needn’t be just a last resort for couples who are unable to have children. Both she and her mother had miscarriages before going on to give birth to their biological children.
As for the financial outlay, McGeary estimates that the costs involved some 40 years ago came in at under $4,000, while those of her daughter and son-in-law, who worked through an adoption agency, amounted to about $40,000.
There is considerable paperwork beforehand, and some might not want to put in that time, Glassing said, but “the end result is so worth it.”
In her case, she said, it “made sense to go back to where I came from,” with the thought that “it would be nice to give another Colombian child the life I had.”
As for filling Gabe in on his origins, there will be no big-deal discussion, she said, with the story being woven in naturally through everyday conversation, as it had been with her.
“He’ll know that he’s chosen — for us.”