After spending the past two years keeping in touch via flights to Haiti and photo updates in between, Chad Witcher is still adjusting to the fact his adopted son Jon Luke is finally home in Cullman. Lucky for him, the occasional Nerf football to the head serves as a good reminder.
“Sometimes I’m looking at him and I have to remember he’s not in a picture, but then he throws something at me and I remember,” he joked. “He really is here, and we’re so glad.”
After spending his first two Christmases in a tent village and closely knit Haiti orphanage, Jon Luke is celebrating the holiday season with his new family in Cullman this year — complete with a massive tree and all the trimmings Americans have come to expect.
Chad and his wife, Shannon, have been working to adopt Jon Luke ever since he was just a few months old, and the toddler’s journey to America finally became a reality on Thanksgiving Day. The two-year-old joins 15-year-old Kylie, 12-year-old Kennedy and nine-year-old Maddie as the latest addition to the Witcher clan.
“We actually spent Christmas in 2011 with him in Haiti, but we weren’t able to make it last year,” Shannon said. “It’s just amazing and very humbling to finally have him here, especially for the holidays. After you’ve spent some time there, it’s so hard to look at these children and not want to help them.”
Though she says the red tape and paperwork to finalize the adoption was a bureaucratic nightmare, Shannon said it’s all worthwhile to see the look on Jon Luke’s face as he digs through a living room toy box or scarfs down his food on a trip out to eat.
“I’d never want to discourage anyone from adopting, but it was horrible and a real battle to make it happen,” she said. “There’s really no filing or organizational process.”
“It was like a turtle race,” Chad chimed in.
With a house full of girls, Chad plans to take full advantage of having another boy under the roof. He even got to introduce Jon Luke to the wonders of college football on his first weekend home, as he helped cheer on the Auburn Tigers during their upset win earlier this year.
“We were all going nuts, and he just looked at us like we were crazy,” Chad said. “But then, he just started acting crazy with us. He’ll fit right in.”
The gender bias has also created some toy disparities, though Chad noted those should be more than corrected thanks to Christmas.
“He likes footballs, basketballs, and he’s getting a Tonka truck for Christmas,” he said. “We also went with a [kid-sized] Jeep and some educational stuff.”
Though he’s essentially entered a whole new world in America, Shannon said Jon Luke is doing a great job of adjusting to the culture. A tutor helped teach the young boy the basics of the English language before coming over, and Shannon said that prep work has helped tremendously.
Jon Luke will also have some company soon, as his two brothers, his aunt and a young friend from his orphanage are all in the process of being adopted by Cullman families.
“He’s done a really good job of adjusting, and we try to look at pictures almost every day [from Haiti] because sometimes they’ll grieve for their friends. Sometimes he asks for his brothers, so we’ll look at pictures of them. We don’t want him to forget anyone while we wait for them to get here.”
Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 134.