(I’m sharing our experience of adopting older children from foster care. Before we started this process, I had no idea what was involved, only that it seemed foreboding & insurmountable. It wasn’t. It’s been good. You should consider it.)
Today is your first adoption party . So many feelings. Most mornings, you’re barely even aware that you exist until you’ve had coffee, but today you’re buzzing. Today you will meet actual children who need parents. A lot of them, from what you’ve heard. You’ve researched adoption matching events, trying to wrap your mind around how this could be anything but awful: you imagine children milling about waiting for someone to talk to them; the cute little ones surrounded by competing wannabe parents, while older ones (which in adoption is anyone over age five) languish on the sidelines, ignored. Your heart breaks for these kids, and you’re not even there yet.
Dear Jesus, please protect their hearts today. Let all of them feel loved. Make families today, Lord, would You please?
You pray this over and over again as you’re getting ready. You wonder: how does one dress to look like a good, safe Mom? (You ultimately decide that your good, safe Mom look is pretty much the same all your other looks: jeans and a sweater. Your ability to adopt false personas is severely hampered by your reluctance to dress outside your basic personal uniform.)
Here’s what you know going in: The start of your adoption exploration (because really, you still kind of feel like you’re trying this on for size) happens to coincide with the area’s largest open adoption event. A number of years ago, Jordan’s Furniture partnered with MARE to host a series of events to help place children in families. This is the “big” annual event, open to the pubic (most other events are smaller and restricted to families who have completed MAPP training and been homestudied). It includes a program for newcomers that outlines the adoption process, a chance to meet parents who have adopted different types of children (siblings, older kids, special needs, etc.) from foster care and ask about their experiences, and presentations from different agencies and local DCF offices about their waiting children. You wonder if there might be a way to talk to the grown ups without interacting with the kids? You can’t imagine how you’d casually “chat” with a child to see if you might be their parent, especially when you both know that’s what you’re doing. It just seems so very WEIRD. And awkward. And potentially devastating. You struggle with basic logistics: how does one make small talk with a child you’ve never met when so much life training says that is inappropriate? And how does one end such a conversation, even if you think the child is wonderful, even if you really do have to go to the bathroom because you drank four cups of the complimentary coffee Jordan’s provided because you were so nervous? How is this not like looking at farm animals at an auction?
You are pretty much freaking out.
You can’t imagine adopting a child you’ve never laid eyes on. People are different in person than in pictures, as anyone who’s ever tried online dating can attest. There’s a chemistry to compatibility that transcends any “match” you can make on paper. These parties, you’ve learned, are the really the only way prospective parents meet kids. It’s not considered good practice to introduce you individually during the “we’re considering” phase, and as much as it seems completely reasonable to ask, “Can’t you just bring the child to McDonalds and we’ll happen to be in the booth across the room?” The answer is no, they can’t. So many kids in foster care are hyper vigilant – They WILL notice if there’s someone staring intently at them, no matter how discrete you think you’re being (and because we’re talking about a CHILD you might ADOPT INTO YOUR FAMILY, let’s just admit that you will have NO ABILITY to be discrete.)
So you get into the car and go, praying the entire way.
You walk in, and it’s a happy sort of bedlam. The “lobby” at Jordan’s has always been devoted to kids and fun, and they’re making the most of it. They have face painting and sketch artists doing caricatures. A graffiti artist is spray painting kids’ names on winter hats. Craft tables are set up, along with foosball and other games. There are jugglers, balloon artists, stilt-walkers in Boston Sports gear. There is food, and coffee. You pour yourself a small cup while you try to collect your thoughts and come up with a plan, but really you’re just staring, wide-eyed, at all the people.
Everyone wears color-coded name tags (Green = child awaiting adoption; Red = adult considering adopting; Gold = child that already has parents, Blue = Social Worker or Foster Parent), but you can pick out the pre-adoptive parents without them: you’re all huddled against the walls, staring at the thick book of profiles you were handed at registration, trying to figure out what to do next.
And in the middle of it all are almost a hundred children playing games and very intentionally not looking at you.
You page through the book, looking for siblings. You’ve seen some of these profiles in the library (every local library has a binder in the reference section that is supposed to be updated monthly.) There are a few that seem like possibilities based on age; you figure you should try and find them. So you wander around, trying to match faces with profile pictures.
You fall in love with every. single. child.
The boy with the glasses sliding down his nose who is arguing with his frustrated, eye-rolling sister over which activity table to visit. The seventeen-and-a-half year old girl with the gorgeous eye makeup. The little girl (maybe 9 or 10?) who looks like a Romanian gymnast who makes a keychain and then walks over to give it as a present to her older brother. The boy playing foosball whose profile lists him as fifteen but who looks about nine.
One young boy smiles at you SO BRIGHTLY while he’s getting his picture painted, you actually track down his social worker, wondering if this might be a sign. “But he’s not a sibling,” your husband points out reasonably (as if reason is even a thing at this point). You brush his objection away, your heart captured, only to learn from his social worker that this little boy is looking for a Mom, or two Moms, but not a Dad. You realize that when he was smiling at you, your husband was on the other side of the room.
Lord, bless him. Find him a Mom, would you please?
You take a deep breath and move on.
The two hour event is like a recurring loop of this process: scanning the room for the siblings you’ve read about, searching for their social workers to get more information. You start to feel parameters building around what would make a good fit, only you’re not building them; you want to tear them down because they seem mean and heartless. But again, REALITY: just as you are not the right fit for the boy who does not want a Dad, you are also not a candidate to adopt the beautiful girl who can’t navigate stairs. You live on the second floor. You don’t have the medical capacity to handle one boy’s significant health challenges. Or space for the four teen brothers. One social worker talks to you about a set of five sisters, ages 2-12, and you imagined them stacked in bunk beds all over the house.
You realize that REALITY plays a role here. It’s hard to admit. You want to be the answer for all of these children. And yet you’re only the answer for two, or perhaps three of them. Which means you are not the answer for all the others. (But someone else is, you tell yourself. Someone else is.)
As the party winds down, your husband is ready to leave. You are not. You’re pretty sure you have not met your kids, and you want to. You want this to be easy, you want to KNOW so you’ll have faces in your mind as you pray for them. You want to PLAN, because adopting a 5 & a 6 year old is entirely different than adopting a 12 & 13 year old. So even though you understand that you still have four more weeks of MAPP class and then a home study process that takes 2-3 MONTHS before you’re in a position to formally inquire about specific children…you hoped you’d meet them today.
You go home and pour over the orange book of profiles, reading every single profile again and again like it contains hidden treasure.
Because it does.