Haitian or­phan finds a home in Md.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY PAUL SCHWARTZ­MAN

“If it wasn’t for the earth­quake, she’d still be there. Out of tragedies come bless­ings.”

— Dave Hub­ner, adop­tive par­ent

Four-year-old Ila Ys­lande Ann Hub­ner wad­dled into the Fred­er­ick County Courthouse the other morn­ing, arms flail­ing, legs kick­ing this way and that, bab­bling about the Cookie Mon­ster.

“Ev­ery­thing is ‘Cookie Mon­ster,’ I don’t know why,” said Christie Hub­ner.

A year ago, when Hub­ner and her hus­band, Dave, took cus­tody of Ila, she knew noth­ing about Cookie Mon­ster. She was an or­phan in Port-au-Prince, fright­ened, hun­gry and stranded in the rub­bled af­ter­math of the Haitian earth­quake.

A judge legally blessed the Hub­n­ers’ adop­tion Thurs­day, com­plet­ing a four-year quest that seemed end­lessly mad­den­ing be­fore it turned mag­i­cal.

“Ila, do you want to say some­thing?” asked Mary­land Cir­cuit Court Judge G. Ed­ward Dwyer.

“Hi,” she an­swered, her voice as light as a feather.

“Con­grat­u­la­tions,” the judge said. “You’re now of­fi­cial.”

Ila’s path to Fred­er­ick, where she lives with two sib­lings and her adop­tive par­ents, has been long and ar­du­ous. Aban­doned by her mother as an in­fant, she lived in an or­phan­age in the Haitian cap­i­tal that was up­ended dur­ing last year’s mas­sive quake.

The Hub­n­ers — she was a mu­seum cu­ra­tor be­fore be­com­ing a mother, he’s a di­rec­tor for an air­craft own­ers and pi­lots as­so­ci­a­tion — be­gan the adop­tion process in 2006, but their cus­tody of Ila was de­layed by one con­found

ing bu­rea­cratic snarl af­ter an­other.

Ini­tially, the Hub­n­ers say, they were told they would get Ila in seven or eight months, but the time frame kept ex­pand­ing as Haitian of­fi­cials cited the need to make one more ef­fort to find the girl’s mother.

“ They’d say, ‘ She may be in a vil­lage four hours from here, or a 12-hour don­key ride,’ ” Dave Hub­ner re­called. For months, they worked with one Haitian of­fi­cial, only to learn that he had no author­ity to give them Ila.

The mas­sive earth­quake on Jan. 12, 2010, moved of­fi­cials to speed up dozens of Haitian adop­tions. Eleven days af­ter the quake, a U.S. mil­i­tary air­craft de­liv­ered Ila to the air­port in Or­lando, where the Hub­n­ers were wait­ing with a pink car seat.

“If it wasn’t for the earth­quake, she’d still be there,” Dave Hub­ner said. “Out of tragedies come bless­ings.”

The Hub­n­ers, both in their mid-30s, fell in love at Mes­siah Col­lege in Penn­syl­va­nia, where they hatched a vi­sion of a fu­ture that would in­clude two or three chil­dren. The idea of adopt­ing kids came to Dave dur­ing a vacation in Mex­ico, where he and his wife en­coun­tered waves of poor chil­dren beg­ging in the streets of Ti­juana.

Adop­tion be­came some­thing of a call­ing, said the Hub­n­ers, both of whom are de­vout Chris­tians.

Christie Hub­ner gave birth to their el­dest child, Mathis, five years ago. The cou­ple trav­eled to Texas to adopt their sec­ond child, Jonas, sev­eral days af­ter his bi­o­log­i­cal mother gave birth in 2008. By then, the Hub­n­ers had be­gun their adop­tion quest in Haiti, where Christie’s mother had worked as a mis­sion­ary.

For the past year, the Hub­n­ers have learned to keep up with the of­ten-chaotic rhythms of par­ent­ing three small chil­dren. Ila has ad­justed to her new set­ting, al­though not with­out chal­lenges.

When they brought her home, Ila’s teeth were brown. She liked to shovel food into her mouth with both hands, and she couldn’t fall asleep un­less one of her par­ents was with her. Some­times she cried so hard that her pa­ja­mas be­came soaked with sweat.

A den­tist has cleaned her teeth, her mother said, and she has learned, like her sib­lings, to hide food she dis­likes in­side her nap­kin. Fall­ing asleep on her own is no longer a prob­lem.

Ila’s pen­chant for bit­ing other chil­dren has been more dif­fi­cult to con­quer. At home, she bit Mathis hard enough to make him bleed from his torso. At preschool, Sun­day school and the YMCA, she has bit­ten other chil­dren.

“She didn’t know how to ex­press her­self,” Christie Hub­ner said, adding that Ila’s bit­ing sub­sided as the year pro­gressed.

When they brought her home, they wor­ried about Ila’s health: Would Amer­i­can doc­tors find some­thing that the Haitians had over­looked?

And what about her psy­cho­log­i­cal well-be­ing? Would resid­ual signs of trauma sur­face as she got older? Could a lit­tle girl ex­pe­ri­ence aban­don­ment with­out there be­ing a price?

Their wor­ries are not solely fo­cused on the adopted chil­dren. How would their bi­o­log­i­cal son, a blond, take to life with two dark­skinned sib­lings who seemed to ar­rive from nowhere?

So far, the Hub­n­ers say, their fam­ily is func­tion­ing quite nicely, give or take a daily melt­down or three.

Over the course of the year, there have been sur­prises. African Amer­i­can strangers have vol­un­teered to help the Hub­n­ers, both white, with un­char­tered ter­ri­tory such as tend­ing to Ila’s hair.

At Sun­day school, when she was sep­a­rated from other chil­dren be­cause of bit­ing, Ila picked up rudi­men­tary sign lan­guage from a teacher, and now she can use her fin­gers to say “Mommy,” “Daddy” and “I love you.”

She also has shown a sense of style, de­light­ing her par­ents with her in­sis­tence on wear­ing skirts and patent-leather shoes.

On Thurs­day, Ila wore a pink skirt and ma­roon jacket to court. She watched as her mother took the stand, car­ry­ing her younger brother and de­scrib­ing a life of naps, school and vis­its to the Y.

“Kind of like a nor­mal fam­ily,” Christie Hub­ner said.

Af­ter a short drive home, the Hub­n­ers served cof­fee, quiche and muffins to the grand­par­ents, aunts and un­cles, while the chil­dren raced up and down the stairs and flopped on the couch.

Out came the cake, dec­o­rated with a smil­ing blue face.

“Cookie Mon­ster!” Ila yelped, stick­ing her fin­gers deep into the ic­ing and sa­vor­ing the sweet­ness.


Af­ter a fi­nal court ap­pear­ance Thurs­day, Ila Ys­lande An­nHub­ner, 4, went home to Fred­er­ick and took a spin in her aunt's shoes. Her par­ents had been try­ing to adopt her for four years be­fore an earth­quake helped speed bureau­cratic process.

With her tongue blue af­ter eat­ing a Cook­ieMon­ster cake, Ila de­lights in a gift of the char­ac­ter, as her aunt, Jamie White, and 2-year-old brother Jonas help her cel­e­brate her adop­tion.


TheHub­n­ers prac­tice their letters with flash­cards ev­ery night be­fore bed­time. Christie works with Ila as Jonas climbs over her, and Dave works with­Mathis on the couch.

At left: DaveHub­ner over­sees Ila's brush­ing. When they brought her home, the girl’s teeth were brown. She liked to shovel food into her mouth with both hands, and she couldn’t fall asleep un­less one of her par­ents was with her. A den­tist has cleaned Ila’s teeth, and she has learned, like her sib­lings, to hide food she dis­likes in­side her nap­kin. Fall­ing asleep on her own is no longer a prob­lem.

Top: Four-year-old Ila Ys­lande An­nHub­ner’s adop­tion was made of­fi­cial Thurs­day.

Above: Ila re­laxes as her mother, Christie, styles her hair. TheHub­n­ers have got­ten lots of ad­vice from African Amer­i­cans they’ve met on how to prop­erly take care of Ila’s hair.

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