09/11/2012 03:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Arrival Day for an Orphan: From Anonymity to Permanency

It was twelve years ago that our youngest son, Benjamin, arrived in the U.S. from Vietnam when he was adopted. Our family calls this day "Anniversary day" and "Arrival day" -- every adoptive family has their own name for this day because it is poignant marker of the moment a child transitions from an orphan's life of anonymity to a family life of permanency.

My family looks like many other families on our block in Maplewood, N.J., because we live in a diverse community where many families have been formed through adoption. But adoption is just a fragment of our daily life, and when I look at Ben's handsome face and touch it softly or hold him close at bedtime, I am not thinking about adoption. He is simply my precious baby son.

Ben chose Miss Lin's Chinese restaurant in nearby Millburn for his special anniversary dinner. We shared sesame chicken, chicken and broccoli, and pork fried rice and the boys drank tea with a lot of sugar to make it sweet. The fortune cookies were odd and nonsensical, but made us laugh. Children enjoy being celebrated, but it is hard to know what they really think about this day. Ben loved the Chinese food and he said he was happy. Good enough for me.


Every year, I can't wait for the toasts at the start of the meal. Our older son Des (adopted from Ethiopia) thanked Ben for being the best brother in the world. Ben toasted himself and was silly and giggly. I spoke about the photo of Ben and me on a plaid couch at the Hanoi Towers where he, my partner Diana and I lived as a threesome for two weeks in August of 2000. Back then, Ben was a tiny baby with no ability to comprehend his new life. He was afraid, tense and lonely and we adored him and fussed over him morning, noon, and night.

Diana toasted his birth mother and birth father and thanked them for giving him life and for giving us the opportunity to raise him and love him. She spoke about how on this day, we honor Ben's parents. That is the point of this day, in my opinion: We honor the privilege of raising someone else's child. Diana and I remember, with respect and reverence, that our child was given to us in a Giving and Receiving Ceremony in Hanoi in August 2000. On that day an orphan, Nam Van Nguyen, became a permanent member of our family, Benjamin Lerner Leo Aronson.

I do something quietly and secretly on the anniversaries of our sons' arrivals. I think about all the orphans who are anonymous and who have no permanency. I wonder where they are right now. I ache for their parents, who gave birth to a child who is no longer part of their lives. Some orphans are in the care of my organization, Worldwide Orphans Foundation, and sometimes WWO actually prevents orphaning by providing support to vulnerable populations. But hundreds of millions of children in the world have been abandoned, or have lost one or both parents, and must live out their childhoods in orphanages. They have nothing. While we can't establish permanency for all of these children, we can work to give them a decent life anyway. A life of health, community, love, education and hope. That is the challenge I take up daily, relentlessly, and passionately.