(I’m retelling our story of adopting older children from foster care in the blatant hope that you will do the same. You can read about how this began here and here.)
At the introductory meeting with the adoption coordinator, your guard is up SO VERY HIGH, you can barely hear what she says. On a visceral level, you believe you will be rejected, kicked out of the office to shouts of “We don’t need your help!” and “Why would we ever consider people like you?”
(Okay, you MIGHT still be a little wounded from your last attempt to help a child in state custody.)
But the lady – her name is Sarah – is friendly and nice, and asks some ordinary getting-to-know-you questions. Then she startles you right out of your fear spiral by asking:
“When you imagine your family, what do you see?”
You start babbling. Really, you have no idea. All your thoughts to this point have been about what you want to avoid: protracted legal battles, the heartbreak of returning a child to a potentially unsafe situation, etc. You mention these things: NO legal risk (meaning you’ll only consider children who are free for adoption), and how there’s one local office you will not work with after your past experience.
Sarah makes a good point about “legal risk,” explaining how judges are reluctant to create orphans, and so often will not terminate parental rights until a potential adoptive family has been identified. “But we can usually tell what’s happening in those cases,” she says. “Nothing is guaranteed, of course. The court makes the ultimate decision. But there are almost always indicators if the legal piece will be straightforward or complicated.”
“Are there any personal qualities you imagine in the kids when you think about this?” she asks.
You have no idea what to say. You don’t imagine blonde kids or tall kids or kids who look surprisingly like your family. You’ve met your friends’ three great kids, so at some level you’d like a family JUST LIKE THEIRS. But even in this, you realize, you DO have a few more specific desires.
“I’m not sure we’d be the best parents for a baby or a toddler,” you say. “I think where we are in life might make us better suited to older children, probably no younger than five.”
“We’ve talked about adopting siblings,” your husband adds. “That way they have each other to lean on and play with.” You mention how one time, you asked a pastor who’d adopted 11 kids how he kept from losing his mind, and how he made this great admission: “I’m a fantastic father, but I’m not a very good play partner. Part of why this works is that the kids have each other to play with, which frees me up to just be their Dad.”
“We’re kind of like that,” you say. “We’re great at nurture and comfort, structure and support. But I’m not great at dreaming up craft projects, or sitting on the floor for five hours playing with Barbie’s dream house.” It feels good to admit that while you have some strengths, you do not have ALL the strengths.
Then Sarah asks, “Are you considering children of a particular race?”
You both shake your heads. “We’re pretty open,” he says. You know this might make you look naive. You try to explain:
“Our friendship pool has always been diverse because we lived in and around Cambridge. Here’s what we’ve learned: You can LOOK different from someone and yet be incredibly alike. And you can look like sisters and have nothing in common. We want the kids who are a great fit for our family – the ones for whom our skills and temperament meet their needs. One of the upsides of creating a family in this unusual way is that we get to try that.”
“Is there anything specific you’re looking for?” she asks.
“Well, I guess humor would be good. We navigate life by looking for ways to laugh. Our kids don’t need to be comedians, of course. But if they like to laugh and can see life through that lens…or learn to…that would be great.”
Then Sarah describes the process. How she’ll run a CORI background check on you, and then come to your house to do a Physical Standards check to make sure you have room for kids, and things like running water and fire alarms. If you pass these two steps, you’ll be invited to the next training class, which starts in two-and-a-half months, and will run for five consecutive Saturdays from 10am-4pm.
“I’ve heard about that class,” you say, making a face. “That it’s really depressing.”
You’ve had a few different friends take the course, and their reports were rather similar: that it’s stressful and heartbreaking, and comprised mostly of oddballs who probably shouldn’t be parents (who might do better to start with a potted fern and see how it goes). You glanced at a friend’s class binder once, saw a page entitled something like, “Returning Children to Sexually Abusive Situations,” and slammed it closed, refusing to look at it again. You’ve been dreading this class ever since. Five all-day Saturdays? That sounds almost too grim to bear.
But Sarah looks surprised by your assessment. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she says. “I’m not sure that’s everyone’s experience…”
You want to believe her that it could be better. But you can’t. Still, you ask how long the overall process might take.
“After the class, we complete a Home Study. That’s a series of interviews I do at your house, along with several letters of recommendation. You’ll get fingerprinted. And you’ll need a recent physical. Lots of people forget that part and end up scrambling later, so you might want get that set up now. And after your Home Study is approved, that’s when we’d start the matching process. The earliest that would happen would probably be March or April.”
March or April… nine months away, the normal time of gestation. That’s a little freaky.
You leave the office with the application forms, still not sure you have what it takes to go through with this process. Will it be worth it? Or should you work harder to celebrate the life that you have NOW, the one with the free Saturdays, no intrusive interviews, finger prints, or personal government oversight?
But then at home, you Google, “Children waiting for Adoption – Massachusetts.” It takes you to the MARE site. You look at the pictures of waiting children, read the descriptions. Suddenly, your deepest desire is to gather them all in your dining room, tell them that they’re loved and wanted, and invite all your friends over to promise to help them in life.
You call your friend who adopted the three. “That page is just the tip of the iceberg,” she says. “There are hundreds of children who aren’t listed there but are ready to be placed.”
The least you can do is spend five Saturdays taking a class.
You brace yourself for the process. You print off the page of waiting children, and pray for them by name:
Dear God please bless Michael to sleep well tonight. Help Alaiyai have a good day in school tomorrow, especially if there’s something she’s nervous about. Be close to Arnie and Jamal and Crystal, let them know how much You love them… And Lord, please bring these children new families. Give them a place to grow up surrounded by people who love them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
It feels good to be doing something to help them, even something that feels so small.