COLUMBIA CITY — Saturday’s birthday party was four years in the making for Charlotte Eun Joo Smith, known as Charley, to her new adoptive family.
Shawn and Megan Smith, of Indianapolis, adopted Charley from Seoul, South Korea. The process took 14 months, but on May 26, Shawn and Megan welcomed their daughter into the family.
“When we were ready to start a family, we did not feel that our children needed to be biological to be ours. Our daughter was simply in South Korea,” said Megan, who is originally from Columbia City.
The Smiths were in Columbia City Saturday to celebrate Charley’s fourth birthday with Megan’s family who still live in the area.
Megan said, “Our friends and family have been just as excited and welcoming of Charley as of any other child in our family. My close friend was adopted from South Korea as a toddler, so having her as a part of Charley’s life is very special.”
Even though the process took months, Megan and Shawn’s adoption went faster than most because Charley was an older child. Still, the months of waiting were difficult.
Megan said, “Even though our process was expedited, it was still very long due to many months of no movement for any of the children’s paperwork.”
June 2011 marked a milestone in the Smith’s process of bringing Charley home. The pages of paperwork were sent to Korea leaving the Smiths to wait in silence.
The long and idle months reminded Megan of the times Shawn was deployed to Iraq. Shawn was sent overseas two times.
Megan said, “Then we at least had an end in sight. The biggest fear for us during the adoption process was the unknown time line.”
Once Shawn and Megan received the green light, they traveled to Seoul to meet Charley face-to-face for the first time. To help introduce themselves to Charley, Shawn and Megan prepared and album complete with photos of themselves, their house and their dogs. This was sent to Charley more than a year before their meeting.
At first sight, Charley was shy, but Megan said she knew exactly who her and Shawn were.
“We had a few moments while we waited for our social worker to give Charley a doll and some Korean candy, then we needed to fill out some paperwork. When we saw Charley a few minutes later at the playroom door, she started jumping up and down. We were so excited that she was happy to see us,” said Megan.
“After our one-hour meeting, during which she played kitchen with her appa (daddy) and colored with her omma (mommy), we went on a short tour of Eastern Social Welfare Society to see the babies who are waiting to be placed in foster homes. We saw Charley in the hallway once more, and she grabbed my hand, wanting to give me her own tour.”
Although the anticipation of bring Charley home seemed to grow with each meeting, Megan said they took time to meet Charley’s foster mother who had raised her since Charley was an infant. This meant the inevitable. Charley was going to leave and go home with the Smiths, a parting that was bittersweet.
“Charley’s foster mother had prepared her little heart for that day as best she could. She arrived with the bags that her foster mother had packed for her, which included gifts from her birth mother. Her foster sister also came to the second meeting to tell her goodbye. We joined the other families leaving that day with their children, as Dr. Kim, the director of Eastern Social Welfare Society, prayed for the children,” said Megan.
“After a little more time with her foster mother, it was time to leave with our sweet girl. While it was a day that Shawn and I had waited many months for, it was a sad day for all of us, as we knew that Charley was losing the only family that she had ever known. I cried along with her foster mother, as we loaded everything, including Charley, into a cab. We left Seoul two days later on a 12 hour flight to Detroit and then to Indianapolis.”
While the trip to Seoul was planned with the purpose of picking up their little girl, the Smiths were still tourists.
Megan said that while they were in Seoul she was surprised at how packed the city was. Although Seoul is a modern metropolis, the Smiths realized the small amount of land the city actually utilized.
Megan said, “I think that we get very spoiled by how much land and property each person has, and yet I am so guilty of complaining that our house is too small and doesn’t have enough storage all the time.”
The adjustment of space was one Charley had to make. Since she had always slept with her family in the living room, Charley had to adapt to having her own room.
And that wasn’t the only hurdle Shawn and Megan had to jump in their new roles as parents.
Charley did not speak any English when Megan and Shawn brought her to the U.S., but Megan said she has picked it up quickly.
“She understands nearly everything that we say now. We also speak as much Korean as we can, although our knowledge is more limited than we would like,” Megan said.
“We filled up a 4-foot-wide chalkboard wall with Korean as an emergency go-to for when she came home, and we had key phrases hanging around the house, such as, ‘let’s take a bath,’ near the tub. Charley also loves to sing Korean children’s songs with us. Now, we still learn new Korean whenever we can, but Charley is learning English much faster.”
Overall, the Smiths say that the adoption process, while challenging has been very rewarding.
Megan said the best advice she can offer others who might be considering the possibility of adoption is to keep the large amounts of paperwork organized.
For Charley, she has come home. Her birthday party was a combination of four years worth of birthdays.
“We weren’t together for the first three birthdays, so we are making up for it now,” said Megan.
Charley was destined to be a Smith, she just was in Korea and Megan and Shawn had to take the steps to bring her home— at least that is how this family sees it.
“Charley knows that she came home. She knows that we came to Korea and picked her up after her foster mother took care of her for a long time,” Megan said.
“We have a picture of her and her foster mother framed and sitting out. We also have two albums full of pictures of her and her foster family in our living room. The Kim family is a huge part of Charley’s story, as is her birth mother.”
The story is just beginning for Charley, Shawn and Megan.
The family still has to tie up the last remaining steps of the adoption, but Megan said that they are just happy to have Charley home.