“‘Dad, you were always there for me,’” I read. “Except when you weren’t,” I add out loud.
It was almost 2 1/2 years ago that a seven-month-old baby came to live with us. It's a story we plan to tell him every year on "Gotcha Day": The foster agency was out of cars, and we couldn't wait one more day, so Mommy left work and took a livery cab to outer-borough New York with only a stuffed sea lion and a newly purchased car seat, while Daddy hurried to assemble a nursery at home, after buying everything in one frantic day at Target.
And the part of the story I expect he'll probably like most: That when Daddy ran down to help Mommy and the caseworker carry the car seat up the stairs, and got a look at his son for the very first time, he instantly uttered the same words twice: "He's perfect. He's perfect."
And he was.
I'm sure every parent finds their child extraordinary, but since I hadn't given birth to him I felt I maintained some measure of objectivity. And his specialness was routinely verified by outsiders -- yes, he was insanely cute, and eventually quite bright, and athletically coordinated, and especially social and verbal. His big personality attracted attention everywhere we went. Today, we can't walk a block from our house without stopping to talk to one of his many neighborhood "friends." He is a joy; I love being his mother.
We'd expected an older child, been prepared through our certification training for the worst kinds of behavioral problems, a child who was grieving a deep and terrible loss, a child who wanted to be anywhere but with us. To be handed instead this beautiful, healthy infant seemed both more and less complicated. We threw out the spare toothbrush and Jell-o pudding cups we'd bought in anticipation of a 10 or 12-year-old's arrival. I purchased the Dr. Spock book and crammed.
We loved our son before we even met him, from that first agency call when we knew only his age and name. After that first night, which we spent repeatedly creeping into his room to make sure he was still breathing, we only fell harder and deeper. We knew immediately that if we ever got the option to adopt him, there was no way he was leaving.
The details of my son's story are his to share, so I'll say only that yesterday, when we were finally able to officially adopt the child we've loved unreservedly for almost two-and-a-half years, it was the culmination of a long and emotional process.
It was almost unnervingly simple in the end. We verified our signatures on the adoption papers, we checked the spelling of his new full name ("That's my name!" he yelled in the middle of the serious and silent courtroom, by far my favorite moment of the proceedings.) There were no magic words or oaths said -- the judge simply signed some papers and announced that the adoption was complete. It all took about 10 minutes.
I don't think I've fully processed it yet, although I did feel the lifting of a deep anxiety I'd gotten so used to that I no longer realized it was there. For the first time, I am my son's mother in the eyes of the law. There will be no more home visits, no more caseworkers peering in my cupboards and checking my carbon monoxide detector. No more sitting in the emergency room waiting for the state to grant "consent to treat" while my child burns up miserably with a 104-degree fever. No more asking permission to leave the state, no more background checks required to leave my son alone with a member of my family for five minutes. He is now as much mine as if I'd given birth to him myself.
As long and difficult as the process was, I hope to foster and adopt more children in the future. Whenever I look at my son, in all his precious perfection, I can't help but think about the 14,000 other children in care in New York City alone. It hurts me to think about, just as it's hurt every time I've had to say "no" when my agency has called with a second child who needs a home. I wish I could take in all 14,000 children. I hate that my resources are limited, that I can do so little.
But while I don't have the ability to adopt 20 kids, what I do have is a huge platform from which to promote foster parenting. So while I would never judge anyone for the personal choice to have biological children, and foster parenting isn't for everyone, I want to encourage you to at least consider the option. The state pays the child's expenses, it's free to adopt, and if you choose the foster-to-adopt track, you will only receive children who are already available for adoption, eliminating the risk of falling in love with a child who will then be taken away.
If you have questions about fostering or adopting through the foster system, leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them in a follow-up post.
Not being able to write about my son while he was in care actually turned out to be a blessing, because it showed me that I want to respect my son's privacy by not writing about him in the future. (Boundaries! I'm learning them!) But I wanted to write this one post, to share both the joy I am feeling right now and my experience with fostering in hopes of encouraging others to open their homes to a child who needs one.
Adopting my son is the best thing I've ever done. He is, quite simply, a gift from God, well beyond my wildest dreams. Often, people tell us how lucky our son is to have us. I appreciate the sentiment, but they're wrong. We are the lucky ones.