By Katie Lovett
The Gloucester Daily Times
GLOUCESTER, Mass. (AP) — A burly court officer at Newburyport District Court, Mick Verga of Gloucester interacts with prisoners all day and keeps his cool.
But when it comes to his 9-year-old daughter, Amanda, it’s a different story.
“When it’s my baby, I’m all emotional,” he said.
And it’s been that way ever since the day Verga and his wife, Ping, flew to China to bring her home. Verga, 53, a Gloucester native, began working at the courthouse on Newburyport’s State Street in 2001, leaving briefly to work in Gloucester. He returned to Newburyport two and a half years ago.
The couple began the long process of adopting a child from China after trying unsuccessfully to conceive. Ping is a native of China and they knew several other couples who had taken the same route.
“It takes about two years from the time you file your application to the time you go over there and get your child,” Verga said. The couple chose an agency, met with a case worker, supplied their personal information, and submitted to a CORI check.
“It’s not all done at once,” Verga said. The time period allows for the financial burden and paperwork burden to ease a bit for families, he added. In the fall of 2003, Verga and his wife received the news that they would be heading to China early in the new year to meet their daughter.
Amanda was adopted in February 2004. Her parents were told that she was found abandoned outside of a building, wrapped in a quilt with her birth blood still on her. She was found on Oct. 15, and her birthday is considered to be Oct. 14.
It so happened that Amanda’s adoption was finalized in Ping’s hometown, allowing Verga and his wife to visit her family and friends.
When the family returned to China earlier this year, they visited the orphanage, where Amanda spent the early months of her life, and they also visited the building where she was left.
“It was a little emotional,” Verga said. “I got a little choked up. My daughter’s posing like she’s on a magazine cover, and I’m there all weepy-eyed.”
Arriving in China in 2004, the Vergas were among a group of 10 families adopting girls from the same orphanage. The girls were called “sisters” and were all given the same last name in honor of their village. Another family was also from Gloucester and lives close to Verga’s brother. Today, their two daughters spend lots of time together.
“I’m telling you, it was amazing,” Verga said of the first meeting. “There were all these beautiful little Chinese babies.”
While all of the other babies were crying and screaming at the sight of these Americans, Verga said Amanda was calm.
The Vergas were told she was called “Chen,” which translates to “spring water,” in hopes that she would grow to be like pure and sweet spring water, Verga said. Born in the Chinese “Year of the Horse,” Verga said Amanda reminded the employees at the orphanage of a “lonely little horse waiting to be accepted into the herd.” She loved to be held and to survey the rest of the room.
She loved to look at herself in the mirror.
“She still does,” Verga quipped.
After spending several more days in China, the family returned home to their large waiting family. Verga, the son of former state Rep. Tony Verga, is one of eight children. Arriving at the airport in America, the Vergas were given Amanda’s American citizenship paperwork.
“That was another emotional thing,” he said.
Eight years ago, Verga enrolled at North Shore Community College part-time at the age of 44. As part of his requirements, he had to take a composition course. He chose a session that discussed children’s books, figuring the material might be something he could read to Amanda.
“I was the only male in the class,” he said.
One of the assignments was to write and illustrate their own story. He based his on the story of Amanda’s adoption.
“When I read mine, everyone was kind of teary-eyed,” he said. His teacher told him it would make a good book. He kept the feedback in the back of his mind, until he graduated last year, one day after he turned 52 years old.
Doing some research, he found an online publisher and started working on the transcript.
“Fifty-five hundred dollars later, here I am,” he said.
The book, “The Lonely Little Horse: A Chinese Adoption Story” is available online. Verga had a book release party last weekend in Gloucester. November is National Adoption Month and he plans to donate several copies to Amanda’s school, St. Ann’s, in Gloucester. He will also send some to the orphanage in China. The book was illustrated based on Verga’s suggestions, as well as some photographs he supplied.
“It’s a nice little story I think they will all relate to,” he said.
As for Amanda, she is thrilled to be the subject of her dad’s book.
“It’s a little bragging thing for her,” Verga said.
Amanda, who has always known the full story of her adoption, loves to go to gymnastics and swimming classes and attends Chinese school on the weekend to learn how to read and write Chinese and to speak Mandarin.
“She’s Daddy’s girl,” Verga said. “She’s sweet, sweet, sweet.” (end)