2 Years with Adley

Two years ago the call came. “I don’t know why I was hesitant,” the social worker said. “Once I met you, it was clear you’re the right family.”

My son, Adley, had languished in foster care for more than half a year once he was eligible for adoption. His social worker, who had been on the case since he entered the system at birth, was devoted to him. She wanted what was best and didn’t see how that could be me. Due to his special needs resulting from a micro deletion and micro addition genetically, her wish for him was a two parent home without any other children where he could be the primary focus. A single mother with two adopted children was not ideal.

She waited. She searched. She tried to find what she thought was best. I appreciate her concern and dedication. Having been told I was not a possibility, I’d attempted to convince Raine and Athena that he was not going to be their brother after all. They would not believe me. I’d made them no promises. I’d not even introduced the idea to them. It was something the girls determined on their own. As they visited with Adley at my friend’s house where he was being fostered, they decided he would be their brother despite being told all along it was impossible. To begin with, adoption was not looking likely in his case. Then, when at last it was, our family wasn’t a consideration.

Without any other options, the adoption department pushed the social work to at least meet me. Reluctantly, she agreed. Then we waited for her decision. Raine and Athena’s faith was unwavering. I knew the system well enough to know nothing was predictable. The meeting seemed to go exceptionally well but that was no guarantee.

“Yes,” a stranger at McDonald’s playland recently said, “This is the right family for him.” The woman, a recently retired special needs EA, had watched my crew intently after I shared how we came together through adoption.

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Easter morning 2018 – Kinder Eggs and Lego (Duplo for the boys, but they like to call it Lego)

“He has one older sister who really challenges him,” she said of Raine who was climbing in the structure calling to Adley to come up with her. “Another who is a little mother, encouraging him along,” she said of Athena who often came beside to gently lead him out of hesitation. “And a younger brother to run with,” she said of Branch. The two boys had taken off together in a rush when I announced they could leave the table and go play, that’s what had initially caught the woman’s attention.

“This is the best thing for him,” she said with certainty, as I sat back drinking coffee.

There are times I’ve wondered. Adley’s progress has been astounding since he came to me. He’d doing things previously thought impossible – eating on his own. There was a time he was choking so often a feeding tube was being considered. He’s speaking, sometimes in complete sentences. It was thought unlikely he’d ever communicate with words. His comprehension is often surprising. “Unless you have his full attention and speak directly to him in very simple words he won’t understand, “ his therapy team had told me in August before we moved here. We continued to do that. Yet often when I’m not speaking to him at all, Adley understands what’s going on.

When I told Raine and Athena that he wouldn’t be going to school last Monday because he had a dentist appointment, Adley jumped into the conversation, “Tooth. Pull. Out. Gone. No doctor,” he said. The week before, he’d fallen at school and cracked his front tooth. An emergency trip to the dentist had resulted in the tooth being pulled. We were returning to check on how he was doing. Adley understood the word dentist though when speaking directly to him I’d always used doctor. He remembered what had happened and could explain it. And he didn’t see any reason to go back since his tooth was already gone. The many facets of that interjection were considered to be absolutely impossible when he first came to us. The team of therapists who had worked with him since birth didn’t anticipate him to ever reach that level of comprehension and communication. It was a hope, but not something they were expecting.

This morning while waiting for the bus, he was jumping in puddles with his sisters like any other 4yr old would. Both feet left the ground as he tried to make splashes as big as theirs. When he came, there was still the real possibility that he could be wheelchair bound. That’s not even a consideration now.

I worried about making a move that would result in Adley being in a regular school instead of one specifically for special needs children which is where he would have gone had we stayed where we were. It was a risk I took with the encouragement of the team of therapists who had worked with him most of his life.

The school here on Wolfe Island has been outstanding. Being the only child with extensive special needs, Adley is able to access the full amount of funding designated for this area of education. He gets the same equipment he would have gotten at the special needs school. He has a one on one EA. He has friends who encourage and challenge him. At the little island school, he’s known and loved by all. Children fight over who gets to sit with him on the bus. From JK to Grade 8, the children are cheering him on as he makes exceptional gains.

When God brought us together, He knew where our path would lead. Though at the time I had no idea we’d find ourselves on this island, God knew. It’s been such a special place for Adley. Not only is he accepted despite his special needs, he’s celebrated in ways I never imagined.

Looking back on the boy who joined our family two years ago, I can hardly believe it’s the same child I watched splashing in puddles this morning.

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April 2016 – cautiously trying a meringue cookie. First place Athena wanted to take her new brother was the bakery.

When I said yes to Adley it was with the knowledge that those simple milestones might never come. I said yes to loving him in the limitations of his condition. In love, he’s been able to grow and exceed many of the expectations. Today, I’m celebrating the son God saw fit to give me. He knew we were the right family for Adley. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to love him.

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April 2018

Ready to Wait

In October I handed in all the adoption paperwork. I’d been waiting for my social worker to book a meeting. Apparently, she’d be waiting for the paperwork before booking a meeting. So I dropped it off. She mentioned being busy and that I was at the bottom of her list. I expected to hear from her by now. It’s been 5 months since I handed in the paperwork and one year since we first met about starting the adoption process again. There’s a complicated system that prioritizes some families over others. Just after contacting my adoption worker in November – leaving messages she didn’t respond to – I 026received a letter from the director of the adoption department. The mass mail out encouraged prospective adoptive parents to continue to wait. There was an explanation that priority is given to those willing to adopt older and/or special needs children as well as sibling groups. My adoption worker knows I am open to all three of those categories. I’ve left another message. Maybe she’s completed the other homestudies she had to do and can finally get to mine. 017 In the meantime, I’ve gotten a room ready in case my wildest dreams come true and we really do get a baby or babies. If not I can move the crib/toddler bed out and put in full size beds. For now I’ll keep them up to show we’re ready for babies – even if that’s not what we end up with.

I am a Child of God

Today Raine turns 7. She arrived on my doorstep shortly after her 3rd birthday. It seems a lifetime ago

Athena & Raine ready to celebrate

Athena & Raine ready to celebrate

and only yesterday. The report received by the private fostering agency I work for said she had an acquired brain injury from falling out of a bassinet at 6mths.

For years I’d been carrying a crib with me. Everywhere I moved to, I lugged the unopened box. It was a gift from a friend who believed me when I said, “One day soon I’m going to adopt two children – whether I’m married or not.” In the sea of people I knew, this one friend reached out and gave me a gift which cost her dearly. She wasn’t exactly prosperous, struggling with three young children of her own.

When I got the call about Raine, I set up the crib. Having just turned 3, with a brain injury, she might need it. There was also a bed in the room prepared for her. I didn’t know what she’d need.

The social worker and her co-op student, released Raine from her carseat then set about unloading the boxes of clothing and toys sent from the previous foster home. Alone, Raine made her way up to my front door. I introduced myself. She moved past me, talking a mile a minute. Venturing through the house, she landed at the dinning room table that was set with tea and cookies.

Her last name had been exotic. The case manager with my agency told me to expect a Hispanic child. Instead a chubby girl with fair skin, blond hair, and blue eyes asked me a million questions while gobbling up cookies. Raine was bright and articulate. She was not what I’d expected.

“Maybe her sister will come and you’ll get to adopt them both,” my case worker said when the social

cupcakes I made for Raine's 7th birthday

cupcakes I made for Raine’s 7th birthday

worker was gone.

“Maybe,” I agreed. But that didn’t seem remotely possible.

When shown her room, Raine pointed to the crib and said, “This is for my sister. When is she coming here?”

Due to some complications at the previous foster home, a separation was thought best for the young girls. Three months later, their social worker defied her supervisor and the medical adviser deciding to bring 1yr old Athena to my home. The crib was hers, though at that point I didn’t know this was the fulfillment.

I didn’t know these were the children I would adopt. But I invested everything I had in them. Sometimes I didn’t have much to give. Some days I still don’t. This year, as Raine’s birthday drew near, she and I were both reflecting on the time before we knew each other. My daughter hasn’t always been mine. For 3yrs she lived with people I don’t know experiencing a life I know very little about. I’ve worked hard to lay claim to her. Yet there’s a portion of time when Raine wasn’t mine.

Since coming to me, Raine has been adding up the passing time. She’s longed to reach 4yrs “because then I’ll be with you longer than I was without you.” As we near that point, there’s a reflection on that life before. Hundreds of what ifs race through my mind. Maybe it’s because I’m a novelist at heart, I always want to rewrite the past. What if my daughters hadn’t needed to become mine? Wouldn’t that be so much better?

Raine and I both awoke somewhat subdued today. It was a time to celebrate. We tried but mostly failed. Then a friend sent a message with a song attached.

I clicked on the youtube video. Raine stood quietly beside me, watching and listening while I cried. The past is what it is. I can’t rewrite the reality that the family who created Raine is no longer present in her life. Given the circumstances, it’s right that she’s not with them. It’s right for her to be here with me. But that doesn’t erase the pain for her, for her birth parents and siblings, for me. I missed three years of Raine’s life. But I’m exceedingly grateful for what we have shared and will continue to share.

I love watching her change from a slave of fear into a child of God. The transformation continues to amaze me. In the midst of difficulty, Raine’s heart has come alive. She’s learned to love her sister. She’s learned to trust me. Fear is loosing it’s grip. Raine is growing in the realization of who she is. I’m celebrating that today. I’m celebrating the beautiful daughter the Lord brought into my life.

Raine on her 7th birthday

Raine on her 7th birthday

Proclaiming Liberty

This year, my church is declaring a Jubilee. The announcement came while I held my friend’s foster baby. The words spoken by Jesus,

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Luke 4:18-19 (NKJV)

took on a new meaning for me. Suddenly I saw the captivity this baby had been born in to. The child welfare system is, unfortunately, necessary. I won’t dispute that reality. It’s a sad truth. There are situations children need to be protected from. Before he drew breath, this little one was caught up in the system.

As necessary as it is, the system is just that – a system. It’s not an ideal situation for children. Social workers, for the most part, do their best to make the right decisions. Foster parents, hopefully, pour love and nurture into these precious lives. But the system is cumbersome and often difficult to navigate. Decisions and directions don’t always appear to be in the children or family’s best interest.

2yr old Athena - November 2011

2yr old Athena – November 2011

When Athena came to me, she had been diagnosed with an unusual genetic mutation. The specialist insisted upon reconstructive surgery. But the system decided against it. Athena’s head was noticeably misshapen. Her one eye was recessed and it was unclear if she would be able to see properly as time went on. The decision didn’t appear to be in her best interest. As the foster parent, there was nothing I could do but pray and love her. In the end God has reshaped her head. Her eyes are aligned, though one remains slightly smaller. Had I been her legal mother, I would have decided on surgery when the world renowned geneticist insisted it was the best course of action. But Athena was subject to the decision of a system. Among other things, that system was bound by the challenge of legal custody. At that point, they were still trying to connect with the birth family – who were living in another country. The system didn’t have the authority to take medical action in a situation that was hardly routine. I am eternally grateful for Athena’s healing.

It was a miracle. Followed by an even greater miracle – that she was released from the system. Now that Athena’s adopted she has a parent – me – who has legal authority to make decisions for her life. And those choices are based on love and a desire to do what’s best for Athena. The system is unable to operate under that mandate. There are rules, regulations, and budget realities that make it impossible.

Athena & mommy - October 2014

Athena & mommy – October 2014

It’s a necessary system. But it’s a system. This year, as my church focuses on Jubilee, I’m praying for the release of captives. Foster children are captive to a system. Even operating at it’s absolute best, a system is no substitute for healthy, loving parents. So I’m praying this year, children will be released from the system into healthy, life-giving families. First and foremost, I’m praying for birth parents to come to a place of health. If at all possible, this is where kids should be. Should that not be possible, I’m praying for adoptions to occur at an exponential pace.

It was 9mths from the time my daughters became available for adoption until they were officially “placed” with me for adoption. (In our case, since the girls were already living with me, the placement was just a visit from the adoption worker that involved paperwork making the adoption official.)

9mths in the life of a child is a very long time. There are families waiting to adopt. There are children needing to be adopted. Let’s pray that comes together miraculously fast. Let’s pray that this year, many children are released from the captivity of the system into healthy families who can care for them to a degree the system can’t. Because even operating at it’s absolute best, a system is no place for a child to grow up.