Honoring mothers near and far

Date: 2001-05-13

"The Potter family, from left: in front: Ben, 13, Channy, 8, Channa, 10, and Hing,14; back row, mother Elise, Amanda, 18, and father, Doug.
Elise said she believes God give us the children we need to take care of.
Gayle Saran/staff photos

Mother's Day is a special event in the Potter household. This Langley family with five children not only honors mother Elise Potter, but also remembers three other mothers who live far away, and may or may not be living. That's because four of the five Potter children are adopted, and Mother's Day is a time to remember their past and celebrate their life today. We use Mother's Day to remember our children's birth mothers, said Elise, explaining that the kids write letters (as an exercise) to their birth mothers so they get a chance to express their feelings. And most importantly, we remember that if it weren't for those 'moms,' I wouldn't be their mom today.

The Potter family story begins with Doug and Elise Potter, who wanted to have a large family. After the birth of their daughter Amanda, now 18 and a senior at South Whidbey High School, they decided to adopt their second child. We worked with an agency and orphanage in Calcutta, India, Elise said. Ben, who is now 13 and in sixth grade at Langley Middle School, came to us when he was four months old. There was a lot of red tape with immigration and adoption regulations then. He was escorted from India aboard a Boeing 747, and carried off the plane in a basket.It was a very emotional moment for Doug and me, seeing Ben for the first time, said Elise.

Two years later the Potte's adopted a second son, Hing, who was from Cambodia.It was an easy decision to adopt again, Elise said. This time Doug and Elise visited war-torn Cambodia. Prior to their trip they had been in touch with a physician who was working in the refugee camps along the Cambodia and Vietnam borders, just as the Viet Cong were pulling out of Cambodia.Our friend found Hing for us. He was four years old and had spent his entire life in an orphanage, Elise said.They arrived in Cambodia, a country that had been devastated by the war with Vietnam and the mayhem created by the Khmer Rouge. Here I was a 6-foot-tall redhead walking around carrying our new son Hing, Elise said. I really stood out. When people saw us they thought we represented the U.S. government, that we had come to help them. When they found out we were adopting Hing, some tried to give us their children so we could get them out of the country to give them a chance at survival as well.Hing had some real adjustments. He had never lived in a family, and he didn't know the language. America was quite an experience for him -- just learning the technology, like flushing toilets, opening and closing drawers and turning lights on and off -- as well as adapting to family life. Now a 14-year old eighth grader, Hing is quite adjusted to his home and promises to cook breakfast for his mom on Mother's Day.

The Potter family didn't stop growing there. Two years ago sisters Channy, who is eight, and Channa, age 10, joined the Potter family. Elise became aware of the two orphaned Cambodian sisters through her network of multiracial adoption agencies. They had the same mother but different fathers. They were raised together but eventually ended up in an orphanage. Because they were older, I knew it would be more difficult for them to be adopted, especially together. I contacted friends and others about adopting Channy and Channa, then it dawned on me that Doug and I could do it, Elisa said. Then I helped it 'dawn' on Doug.Once again they started the whirlwind of paperwork and immigration. The girls didn't speak English when they arrived, but have made up for lost time. Channa and Channy were very quiet at first, said Elise. But older sister Amanda said that they talk almost nonstop now.

The Potter household is like any other with seven people and seven different schedules. Elise is a massage therapist in Freeland, Doug is a teacher in Everett and the Potter children are busy with school and extracurricular activities. Amanda is a senior involved in many activities, and helps cares for her younger siblings.Hing plays senior Little League Baseball and is on the cross country team; Ben commutes to the other side to play Amateur Athletic Union basketball; Channy is taking ballet and Channa does gymnastics.Our family has melded together very well. We have the same difficulties as any family but we sort them out with love and caring for each other. Our children are such a blessing to us, Elise said. "


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