Adoption Day 2.0

Today is an exciting day for my family. It’s the one year anniversary of the adoption of my twin boys. Anyone who has followed this journey from the beginning can attest to the highs and lows along the way, and how much relief my family and I experienced putting to rest an emotionally turbulent two year stent, fully invested in that end.

The year 2020 for most people has been difficult up to now, and the remaining months promise further uncertainty. My household has been no exception and, as a father, I can’t help but join in the worry about everything from civil unrest to pandemic level sickness. But 2020 aside, I wanted to tell you a little about post-adoption life.

My situation is uncommon to say the least. That is to say that the odds of a single man deciding to get licensed as a resource family (foster care provider), with the intent to adopt, receiving as a first placement a set of healthy twin boys of only 18 month of age at the time, and then to have that become a successful adoption, has got to be astronomically low in the spectrum of possible outcomes. This is not wasted on me, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am blessed.

For about eight months we took in another foster child. A beautiful little girl, also 18 months old at the time. And, as much as I would have liked to have been her permanent home, the addition of another child made clear my limits as an individual. Ultimately, she ended up with a wonderful family, long time friends of my own family, who are nearing the end of the adoption process with her. I have no doubt in my mind that this is the ideal placement for her, and I’m excited to watch her grow up in a strong, stable home full of people who absolutely adore her.

Once the transfer was made, however, we began to move into a more structured routine, absent the looming fear and uncertainty that we had previously shouldered; replaced, of course, with the normal fear and uncertainty experienced by all parents in regards to the wellbeing of their children. Amplified, perhaps, by the trials of 2020. My boys tell me (often thirty to forty times a day), “I love you, Daddy.” It is one of the greatest things to hear (in moderation) from the children you would do anything to protect and provide for. They are strong, healthy four-and-a-half year olds, with beautiful blue eyes to accent their ever-growing, razor-straight blonde hair. They love The Avenger’s, Lego, ruining their shoes, and riding their bikes.

And, eating twice their bodyweight in food each day.

I’ve started a college savings 529 plan, which they both hope to use to become members of the Avengers one day. Hopefully, we won’t still be distance learning by then. But, if there’s one thing I can say with certainty, it’s that this is all going very fast. The time from when I buckled their tiny, frightened bodies into fresh car seats in the back seat of my truck, until today, feels like a blur and I just want it all to slow down. Mostly I want this year back, as it has been a total loss in terms of enjoying the fun things, like family trips to zoos and parks. Other than one camping trip, we’ve lost out, like so many others, on those much needed highlights. I truly hope that 2021 goes back to some sense of normalcy.

The other day, while rifling through old photos taken over the past couple years, I experienced a deep sense of satisfaction. It presented itself, not so much as a feeling of accomplishment, although I believe that would be well earned, but more as a sense of completeness. Like a vacant space in a complex puzzle had been patched with the appropriate piece, creating a picture of life, previously obscured and lacking. And, even though my family was built in a far less traditional way, that it was always meant to go this way. It was a feeling of having no regret, coupled with a deep appreciation and acceptance for all the failures, missed opportunities and mistakes that lead me here. It felt like meaning and purpose. Far beyond anything I’ve ever achieved from success in business and relationships, both past and present.

Parenting is hard in so many ways that I’m going to forego mentioning any of them. Every day I see areas where other’s far surpass me in patience, grace and poise. Looking at a plate of fish sticks and macaroni, wondering if this is the best I could be doing in terms of their diets, for instance. Or being made aware of other children who know their ABC’s completely, and wondering if I’m capable of managing their education with everything else I’m juggling at a given time. I am not perfect. Having kids is like being examined under a microscope, where all your imperfections appear magnified by the little people you are fully responsible for the development of. But even with that, I can honestly say that I’ve been pushed to my limits in more ways than I knew possible, and still feel absolutely certain that the decision I made in August of 2017 was the number one best decision and defining moment of my life.

All of this is to say that the odds of mirroring my experience are low. Phenomenally so. But if it resides within you to be a part of the solution needed by a staggering number of children in every community, do it. Your experience will very likely be different. But, it will just as likely be uniquely beautiful, and you may be rewarded in the greatest way imaginable, when a child much in need of your love tells you once (or thirty to forty times a day), “I love you!”

It is life changing.

But no anniversary recap would be complete without ending this with acknowledgments.

First and foremost, thank you to my children, Thomas and Cole, who have participated in all the growing pains alongside me and occasionally been the recipients of poor reactions from an exhausted dad, who carries the guilt of those reactions far longer than the memories are held against me. Thank you for your often undeserved smiles, hugs and kisses, and for being the best part of who I am.

Thank you to my mother and oldest sister, without whom working full time would be impossible. And thank you for picking up a lot of my slack in the raising of my children. You are truly life saving, week after week.

And, to the remaining members of my family who have embraced my children as though they were my own flesh and blood. Your relationship with my kids means more than you know.

Thank you to my employer, who has graciously provided me with a professional environment that allows me to be flexible with the unforeseen circumstances that present themselves from time-to-time. The last decade of stable employment has enabled me to provide the life I have for myself and my kids. You will always have my loyalty and my appreciation. If you are my employer, you know what that last sentence means.

To my co-workers, who have had to put up with my moods amidst the maddening process by which foster children are acquired and adopted. Thank you for making me look good, especially during the times when I had little energy left to support you in the way I would have liked. Your competency and work ethic allowed me the freedom to keep work in the workplace and focus on my kids during my absences.

And, last but not least, to my remaining friends who have assured me that I was insane and in desperate need of professional help for doing this as a single man, but who, regardless of this, have supported me through every step of the process. Even if it seemed minor at the time, it was often the very thing I needed to pick myself up and continue.

Licensed!

As is sometime the case in life, things fall into place in a way which oddly mirrors your version of “Best Case Scenario”. Far more rare, are the instances where circumstance exceed your wildest expectations. As it so happens, my best case scenario (as anyone who has been following my blog can attest) was to be licensed by Thanksgiving and have a placement before Christmas. For me, the idea of seeing the excitement on a youngster’s face Christmas morning — rubbing the sleep from his eyes, the cautious first few steps toward the living room in Santa-red footie pajamas and a wide-toothed grin as he approaches a lit Christmas tree towering over top gifts, his name in big bold letters. The excitement building as he spies an empty cookie plate and milk-stained glass, proving that Santa found him, even in his new home — is the greatest Christmas gift a new parent (or foster parent, in my case) could ever hope to receive.

But, as it would happen, my wildest expectations were exceeded when, ahead of the issuance of my license, I received a call from Social Services stating that two 18 month old boys had just entered the system and they were wondering if I would be interested in having them placed with me.

That’s right…Twins!

If you remember from an earlier post, I asked to be licensed for up to three children, in case there were siblings also needing placement. Twins are rare and I’d never even considered the possibility that I would be offered such an wonderful opportunity, especially for a first placement. But suddenly, I couldn’t imagine having anything else, and as soon as I enthusiastically accepted, I began ordering duplicates of everything. Cribs, car seats, high-chairs, pajamas, matching Jellycat stuffed animals, etc. The realization settling in that I had spent the past three months getting half prepared. Fortunately, there exists a perfect universe where my excitement fueled anxiety can stretch it’s legs: Amazon.com

This was far and away the most exciting phone call I can recall ever having received! Dwarfing past calls that said things like, “Escrow has closed on your new home”, and, “Congratulations! You’ve passed the California Real Estate Broker’s Exam.” It seems like only yesterday that, “You have my blessing to marry my daughter,” was the pinnacle of good news I’d received over the phone. Now a distant and fading memory of what, after this call, suddenly felt like a lifetime ago. So much of life has been this way for me: One chapter ends, the next begins. All to often, the people that occupied the pages of my story remain locked away, left behind for one reason or another in the story of my past. Separation may be the most difficult part of life for me, and my current choices suggest the future will likely hold more of the same, given the temporary nature of foster care in most cases. Adoption is less common and, until final, exists only in the form of hopeful expectation.

But with loss comes gain; with endings, new beginnings. And, these boys will be my life, at least for awhile, and that feels pretty great to say.

Within a half an hour, I had already begun making the transition from one kid to two, and by the end of the weekend, everything was in place. A complete top to bottom transformation in less than 72 hours.

A short few days later, I received a long awaited message. “You’re Official! Your license was signed today.” This was a huge milestone for me, but seemed somehow underwhelming in light of the news about the twins. Truth be told, I really like the Social Worker I’ve been working with for licensing, and am disappointed that we will not be in touch as often now. She has been a huge advocate for me, and has made this process far more enjoyable, not to mention, manageable, than I’d ever imagined it could be. Whether she knows it or not, she will be receiving updates on the kids from me from now on, and I hope we will continue to stay in touch. We’re friends now. Both she and her co-worker have been supportive of this journey since day one, and I hope they both know how much I appreciate the job they did. I wish I could acknowledge them by name, but that, unfortunately, would not be prudent. I am, after all, responsible for keeping the children’s lives as private as humanly possible. That includes the team of people responsible for bringing the boys into my life.

Today, I was shown pictures of the boys. They are beautiful, with the blondest hair I’ve ever seen. Identical twins. Both of them grinning from ear to ear. The pictures were taken by the family they were temporarily placed with. Two of the nicest people I’ve met; both of whom seem to genuinely care about the twins. It was a privilege to meet them and get a little insight into what the boys are like. I am anxious to have them with me, but could not feel better about where they are between now and then. Tomorrow, I get to meet the boys in person and spend the day getting to know them. This isn’t always the case. In fact, I would guess that this is rare. I leaped at the opportunity to meet them and hope I can sleep tonight, despite my excitement.

A few days from now, the boys will be placed in my home.

I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Continue…

 

Home Inspection

When people hear that you are getting licensed for foster care, there are really only three questions they ask:

  1. Why are you doing this? That’s a fair question, the answer to which can be found in my first post, “The Day I Decided To Become A Foster Parent.”
  2. How can you be a foster parent as a single man who works? The same way a single mother does. The same way I began selling real estate at the age of 18. The same way I’ve achieved everything of meaning in my life: Hard work and commitment. My life has been filled with difficult challenges; none of which are as meaningful or worthwhile as this, and none ever will be or should be, for that matter. Challenge is where I thrive. I’m as prepared as any natural parent has ever been; more than many, I assure you.
  3. Isn’t getting licensed a really difficult process? Yes; And it should be. Consider the “ask”. Please,  place in trust with me – a stranger – the well-being of another person’s child.

And, for this reason, question number 3 is the focus of this post.

I’m not going to make an exhaustive list of the requirements which have to be met for licensing. They can be found online, and differ by county and state. I’m also not a social worker, and am, therefore, not the best source of information on the topic. What I can say is, while the requirements are exhaustive and take a considerable amount of time to meet, it is worth it. Don’t allow your imagination of the looming requirements transform into a giant, weaponized gatekeeper, whose sole purpose is to defeat you at every turn.

The expectations are both reasonable and manageable. They need to know who you are, what type of person you are, what your motivation for doing this is, and, ultimately what kind of parent or legal guardian you will make, regardless of whether or not you have children of your own who have not yet died in your care. Keeping a child alive is — let’s be honest — the easiest part of being a parent and the bare-minimal requirement. What’s the hardest part? I’ll let you know when I get there, but I imagine it varies child-to-child, and there is no one single right answer. Any parent might have a different answer and each one of them would be correct.

The last of my requirements were met today, with the passing of my home inspection. I’m not going to tell you what is required to pass a home inspection, because that would be both tedious as well as boring. But here are a few things I did in advance, some required; some not so much. I turned my water heater down. My water temp is 102°, which I’m told is perfect. For additional help on this, it happens to be the “A” on the temperature dial. Not sure if that is consistent across all water heaters or not; that happens to be the temperature of that setting on mine.

All weapons should be out of sight: guns, locked; ammo locked in a separate container from the firearms. Knives, even displayed on a high shelf, need to be put away out of reach. Kitchen knives kept in a drawer need child safety latches to ensure they are not easily accessible. This makes sense, but catches me off guard every time I go to get a utensil and the drawer is yanked out of my grasp by the latch I forgot I’d installed a few days earlier. It sounds funny, but I’ve lived without child safety latches my entire life. I’ve been slow to adjust, like the time I microwaved a honey bear, not realizing that 30 seconds in a sealed contained would cause the pressure to squirt lava-hot fluid all over my face. Add to that the sticky nature of honey, and you’ve got an entry level napalm.

Try wiping that out of your blinded eyes in a panic…

I don’t really care for honey anymore, but you get the point. I’m a slow learner. And, also, I need to think about things now, that I’d never really had to consider before. Like medications. A Medicine cabinet is great as an adult, and a treasure chest of death for a child who discovered he can monkey-climb his way on top of your bathroom vanity and open the lids with his little monkey hands. Kids are smart. They only pretend they need us in order to keep us doing chores for them around the house. Don’t think this means you can call their bluff, though. They are very committed to their roles and will starve before they break character.

(Disclaimer: I am kidding. Do not starve your child. They are absolutely dependent on you to meet their basic needs for survival… Yes, we do live in a world where this needs to be explained. Where adults have to be told not to use electrical appliances in the bathtub, and where lead-based paint gives way to latex.) 

Fire extinguishers. Self-explanatory. I’ve never owned one; now I own two. Household cleaning supplies (as well as industrial strength if your name is Dexter, Bateman, or Heisenberg) need to be out of reach, locked up, or behind child (and, evidently adult) proof safety latches. Paint, etc.; same thing. Garage/storage; out of reach or locked in a cabinet.

Water features, including child-sized pools, are not allowed without gates to block access. Think about it. The county is responsible for making sure the child is safe where he’s placed; not their birth-parent(s). It’s a liability thing, and they take that responsibility very seriously. You’ll need to, as well.

Beyond that, the requirements are centered around your homes adequacy for sustaining human life in reasonable comfort. Can you heat and cool it? Can you see in the dark whilst inside of it? Will it keep the pitter-patter of Autumn’s rain from waterboarding a baby during the night? Again…All very reasonable expectations.

In short, while I did thankfully pass on my first inspection, I spent two months preparing for it. I had surveillance added to the exterior of my home and upgraded my third-party monitoring (not required). I bought diapers in every size up to 27 lbs (not required). And numerous other over-the-top amendments to my lifestyle in anticipation of this youngster. In short, this child will be safe, warm or cool depending on the weather…obviously, fed, well clothed, and loved. And when he reaches a point where he/she can read this, it will still be another decade before he/she will know who the above referenced fictional characters are (Walter white, I mean. Obviously Heisenberg was also a real person, who can rightly be learned about at a younger age).

Background investigation, interviews, references, documentation for everything imaginable; Finally, with the passing of my home inspection, I can now legally have a child placed in my care. It likely will not happen until my license is fully processed…but it may. And I am ready. More than ready…Ecstatic! I can’t wait to vaguely tell you nothing specific about this child, while explaining in vivid detail cherry-picked stories about our experiences together. Anonymity is the right of this child as well as a legal mandate. In a perfect world, this would not need to be the case. But, in a perfect world, foster care wouldn’t exist, so here we are. My goal, after placement, is to include you as much as possible. Out of respect for this child, names and details about him/her will be kept private. Out of respect for you, the reader, the rest will be told exactly as it occurs.

I hope you’ll stick with us.

‘Till next time…

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