What I Want for Next Christmas

Remembering Alejandro’s visit and hoping to bring him home soon

By Clarissa Murray

As we walked down a gravel path through thick, green foliage, “Alejandro” suddenly stopped and pointed. I followed his finger upward, but all I saw was a large branch overhead. But then I spotted it – a large red-tailed hawk perched calmly in a tree, camouflaged among crisscrossed branches, as it peered down at us suspiciously.

He quickly lifted the small, inexpensive camera we had given him. He aimed, and snapped a photo. Alan did the same with his much larger, professional camera mounted on a monopod for extra stability.

Alan and Alejandro take photos of birds in marshland at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Tinicum, Pa. (Photo by Clarissa Murray)

Given his obvious interest in animals, we thought Alejandro might enjoy an afternoon at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge that’s only 20 miles from our home. It seems odd that a wildlife sanctuary would be located so close to a bustling city like Philadelphia. It’s just a couple exits down the freeway from the airport so we can often capture egrets and airplanes in a single photo. It’s an odd little oasis where you can see all manner of water fowl, deer, turtles and the occasional bald eagle, even while you can hear the muffled roar of traffic, which sounds further away than it really is.

Had it not been for Alejandro, we would’ve passed by this red-tailed hawk. (Photo by Alan M. Murray)

We explained to Alejandro that wild animals like to hide and you have to look very carefully to find them. We showed him that you had to be very quiet and still or you would scare them away before you could get a good look. He learned quickly, and by the time he noticed the hawk, he was practiced enough in slow, quiet movements that the bird seemed to pose for several minutes before flying to another tree further from the path, where it sat briefly, and then, tired of our attention, it flew away.

While Alan and Alejandro were busy taking photos of wildlife, I was more interested in a different kind of photo. I wanted to capture moments of my two boys walking down the path together carrying their cameras, Alejandro trying to match Alan’s pace. Each time Alan paused to take a photo, Alejandro would stand right beside him and try to snap the same view, while I stood a few feet away taking pictures of my two photographers.

Alan and Alejandro walk along the trail at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge looking for wildlife to photograph. (Photo by Clarissa Murray)

A week later, Alejandro returned to Colombia and ever since we’ve been working hard to bring him home. We mailed our I-800A application to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) nearly 6 weeks ago to get approval to adopt a child from another country – and we had to have our fingerprints taken yet again. Each day, we anxiously wait for the mailman’s arrival, hoping he’ll bring our approval.

Maybe tomorrow.

As the Christmas season surrounds me, I find myself thinking often about what things will be like next year. Alejandro will need a stocking to hang by our fireplace. I bet he’ll like the old-fashioned electric train from Alan’s childhood that runs around our tree. I know he’ll love baking cookies and candies and delivering them to some of our friends. This year we’re minimizing our gifts to each other to save funds for the adoption expenses. Next year, I wonder if we’ll be able to resist spoiling him with too many presents.

I pray that this is his last Christmas without a family of his own.