Kevin Cullen

Maternal bonds, strained by distance, worry

Cathy Mayo worried about Delmace, her adopted son, after the quake struck. Cathy Mayo worried about Delmace, her adopted son, after the quake struck.
By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / January 17, 2010

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Cathy Mayo’s parents spent part of their honeymoon in Haiti, and the wooden salad bowls they brought back were on the dinner table when she was growing up. And so she always had this image of the place, poor and tropical and magic and tragic, in her mind.

She became a special-needs teacher at the Cotting School in Lexington, and in November 2006 she finally set foot in Haiti. The Cotting had volunteered to help a place in the hills above Port-au-Prince called Wings of Hope that takes in abandoned kids with disabilities. Mayo and others from the Cotting went down to train the people in Haiti.

In February 2008, she was back in Haiti again, and saw him for the first time.

His name is Delmace. His legs don’t work, but his smile did and Mayo fell in love with the little boy who would become her son.

Getting anything done in Haiti is complicated. Adopting kids is even more complicated. The people who take care of Delmace and the other street kids aren’t looking to give them away.

“I didn’t go to Haiti looking to adopt a child,’’ Mayo said. “It’s just something that happened. I figured if I asked, all they could do is say no.’’

But they had seen Mayo return to Haiti, time and again, and they said yes.

The bureaucracy was maddening. They found a discrepancy in Delmace’s birth certificate, and they needed to get a judge to sort it out. The judge signed the papers Tuesday, three hours before the earth began to shake.

Mayo was in a meeting at the Cotting School on Tuesday afternoon.

“We were brainstorming, assessing the technology needs for our friends in Haiti, and I came out of the meeting and checked my e-mail and the first one I saw was from someone who asked, ‘Is Delmace OK?’ ’’

She turned on the TV. She saw places she knew reduced to rubble. She wondered whether the walls that surrounded Delmace and the other children in the hills above Port-au-Prince had collapsed upon them and she wondered if her heart would burst from her chest.

She went onto Facebook and eventually found out that Delmace and the other children were OK. Every day since has been torture.

“He’s safe. He’s better off than a lot of other kids in orphanages. But he’s not even 4 years old. I can only imagine how scared he is. My first instinct is to be with him, but I can’t do that right now. It’s hard enough being separated all this time, and I’m going crazy, thinking I should have had him here by now.

“I’m trying to figure out how to get him out. And I’m just racked with guilt. I feel guilty that he’s there and I can’t get to him. I feel guilty that getting him out of there is going to send this message to the other kids that they’re not good enough to get out. I love all those kids. But I can only get my son out, and I don’t even know when I’m going to be able to do that. They are going to run out of food. They are going to run out of water.’’

She has plane tickets, for next month, and she doesn’t know how she’s going to last until then. She can’t stop watching CNN. She can’t sleep. She can’t stop asking herself if she had done one thing or another would Delmace be sleeping in the bed on the first floor of the three-decker in Jamaica Plain, the bed surrounded by Red Sox photos.

When they were in Haiti together, Delmace refused to go to sleep. He didn’t want to miss a minute with the woman he calls Mama Cathy. So Cathy Mayo put a Dixie Chicks lullaby called “Godspeed’’ on a loop on an iPod and put the iPod under Delmace’s pillow and eventually he fell asleep.

Ever since the earthquake, Delmace has been falling asleep to “Godspeed,’’ and Mayo has been lying in a bed in JP, unable to close her eyes.

She plays the video she has on her laptop, over and over again, the one in which Delmace tells his mother, in French, not to cry.

And she tries. She tries with all her heart. But every night she fails.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at To see Cathy Mayo’s blog, go to