My last article at Catholic Exchange, about Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS), generated a great deal of lively discussion from individuals on all three sides of the adoption triad (adoptive parents, adult adopted children, and birth parents or first parents). Some were worried that the article would discourage prospective parents from responding to God's call to adopt a child.
So this time I'd like to share with you some of the reasons my husband and I decided to foster-adopt, and would do it all over again if we could. I'm hoping it will provide another, more encouraging perspective on the many ways adoption has changed all our lives … for the better! Here they are, in no particular order…
1. Kids are natural virtue builders. They are the perfect antidote to self-absorption and an inordinate sense of self, and bring out (sometimes by force) untapped stores of patience and gentleness. Not to mention humility.
2. They add laughter and affection. Whether it's the sight of Sarah clad in glittering loungewear and sunglasses, or feeling one of them snuggle close at Mass, children are natural day-brighteners.
3. They are a built-in marriage enhancer. While some aspects of married love are more difficult to enjoy with a five-year-old permanently camped out on the bedroom floor, others are enhanced. The "Ewwwwwwwww. Gross!" that a tentative peck elicits has inspired Craig to come back for seconds, with greater feeling.
4. They are a built-in "Get out of ___ free" card. This works especially well with kids who have emotional or behavior challenges. "Well, yes, I can serve on that committee … so long as my children come, too." It's surprising how often someone else "steps forward" to fill the vacancy.
5. They are a built-in conversation starter. Like many writers, I tend to be something of an introvert. I can (and often do) force myself to make small-talk, but I've gotten a lot better at it since joining the "Mommy League." And if I get trapped, I suddenly can hear my child calling me.
6. They tend to make hard-to-love people … more loveable. I don't mind saying that my kids (on their best behavior) are pretty cute. One look into my daughter's chocolate-brown peeper, and even the pickle-faces can't help themselves: "My, aren't you sweet!" (She isn't always, but I keep this to myself … first impressions are important!)
7. They provide a built-in excuse for buying children's books and movies. I have a friend who has five floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, full of children's books. I'm nowhere near that dedicated (my five floor-to-ceilings are a mix of children's books and theology tomes). But having two early readers gives me license to browse to my heart's content. Research, you know.
8. They provide a built-in excuse to trot out my childhood traditions. Yesterday was "Apple Dumpling Sunday," the morning after our first fall trip to the orchard. In a few weeks, we'll build gingerbread houses, then the Advent mother's tea and the whole Christmas cookie marathon. And of course Christopher's favorite, "Green Eggs and Ham" on St. Patrick's Day.
9. They give me a chance to see my parents in a new light. My mother was born to be a grandmother. My Dad says so, too. All of her great qualities — her creativity and humor — rise to the surface when her grandkids are around, while less desirable traits evaporate. It's easy to smile knowing the urchins can be returned to their parents.
10. Party dresses. Lucky for me, I got a built-in princess who loves swirls and ribbons and bows. Second only to running around naked.
11. Dress-up boxes. I search the racks of St. Vincent de Paul for the most garish and sparkly offerings, knowing that by taking them for my daughter's treasure box I am sparing some other individual from a serious fashion faux pas.
12. Birthday cakes. Barbie up to her armpits in angel food and ganache. Dora the Explorer figurines doing backstrokes in a buttercream forest. Marshmallow castles with inverted ice-cream cone turrets. What fun.
13. Daddy magic. There is something about the sight of my husband down on all fours, charging like a wild rhino as the kids swing from the shower curtain like Tarzan and leap upon his back that brings out the Jane in me.
14. Mommy magic. For a few more years, at least, I am the smartest and most desirable of all living creatures to two (three if you count my husband) living souls. It can be a tiny drag when I want five minutes of peace and quiet to take a shower, but most days I get a real charge out of having them fling themselves in my lap with wild abandon. "MOMMY!" Yes, that's me.
15. Mother's Day. For 20 years or so I cringed a bit when May rolled around. I knew that, barring a miracle, I'd never be a mom the conventional way. Now I look forward to the burned toast and handmade cards with a special kind of eagerness.
16. Father's Day. I don't mind telling you that my husband was born to be a father. He is kind and patient and gentle and good. He is also intelligent and interested in the world around him. I get a huge kick out of helping the kids express in their own precious, grubby fashion how neat they think he is, too.
17. Super Bowl Sunday. I hate sports, particularly televised sports. When we got married, I made Craig a deal: If he limited himself to two games a year (Super Bowl and Rose Bowl), I would make sure he celebrated those two events in style. Now he has someone to watch the games with, and Sarah and I can go do something fun, leaving the boys with their stuffed mushrooms.
18. Built-in tea party partner. Sarah has acquired my taste for tea, and loves nothing more than putting on a fancy party dress and going to my favorite tea shop with me, to sip apple juice from fine china and nibble on petit fours. Sometimes my MIL comes along, and having Sarah there always keeps things light and fun.
19. Christmas. There is nothing like Christmas with small children. The excitement. The gifts. The treats. The preparation … yards and yards of popcorn strands and paper chains. Best of all, the music. Christopher is a little more understated in how he carries a tune, but Sarah belts out the "Christmas" section of the hymnal with relentless abandon. And so, I might add, do I.
20. Vacations. Some kinds of trips are much better shared. Dino Land. Bug Village. Thomas the Train Day at the Henry Ford Museum. The very word "vacation" has a particular meaning for our kids: a hotel with a pool and pizza delivery service.
21. Water. For the past twenty years or so, I have studiously avoided being caught in a bathing suit in public. Happily, no one looks at my cellulite anymore. All eyes are on Sarah, who runs screaming around the deck. Her bathing suit cap is pulled down to her eyebrows, making her resemble a Shar Pei. "LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME!!!!" (splash.)
22. S'mores. Need I say more? Ditto cotton candy.
23. Christmas pageants. Sure, watching little kids pull their angel costumes over their heads and torture the upper ranges of "Silent Night" is endless fun. But it gets even better when the third angel from the left is YOUR little flasher.
24. A Second Childhood. Growing up, we didn't do certain things. Celebrate Halloween (including trick-or-treating). Watch Tom-and-Jerry reruns (we didn't own a television set). Go to Disneyland. Swing dance. I get to do all these things now … with my kids.
25. Spiritual milestones. I was thirty when I entered the Church, so I never got to experience First Holy Communion the way my daughter will in a few years. I already have her white dress and veil stashed away in my closet. Christopher, too, loves to hear about the day he gets to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. And I never get tired of telling him.
26. Faith through a child's eyes. Thanks to my children, I get to experience the wonder of faith all over again. Jonah and the whale. David and Goliath. ("Hey, Mom! Was the giant REALLY nine feet tall?" They wait breathlessly to hear the angel in the belfry ringing the bells that call out, "Come to church, come to church! Everybody come to church!" They watch intently as the Eucharist is elevated and the chimes ring again, knowing that we are never closer to heaven than at that moment.
27. Silly songs. Lots of them. The Austrian that Went Yodeling. Waltzing Matilda. I'm Wild About Cars (that go "wah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah, ooga, ooga"). The Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire is even more enjoyable now that I have a captive audience.
28. Family stories. My parents — and his — are REALLY their grandparents, so we do what we can to pass along the family history, including family recipes.
29. Simplicity. Life with kids is about juggling priorities. Do I really want two shelves full of bisque china figurines, knowing they can be instantly converted into expensive landfill with a well-aimed swipe of a pirate sword? Do I need 46 pairs of unmatched socks and 450 back issues of Guideposts, knowing that they can and will be spread from one end of the house to the other in a matter of nanoseconds? Do I need seven kinds of purple eye shadow, knowing the many, varied (and frequently lasting) ways a five-year-old can use a pot of eye shadow?
30. Life Membership in the Mommy Club. Shortly after getting the kids, I joined the Mom's group at church and made a whole new set of friends. Kids have a way of pulling down barriers between people.
31. A new view of the world. Those who adopt internationally get an intimate connection with a part of the world they might otherwise not have discovered. Those who foster-adopt have a bird's eye view of state and local government, and what it's like to be on the receiving end of those tax dollars at work. It's humbling … it's also motivating. I've written more letters about the sorry state of the social services system and how it treats the children in its care than about almost any other subject. I've seen a children's home. I've met the social workers. As a foster parent, I was the only advocate my children had (I had already come to think of them as "mine") when they needed services. Suddenly, the label "pro-life" took on a whole new meaning. I wanted to know whether a candidate continued to represent the needs and interests of children even after they were safely born.
32. Empathy for the marginalized. Shortly after we got him, we registered Christopher in a special Montessori preschool program — a very expensive one — that we had been told was good for foster children. He lasted a month before other parents (most of them devout Catholics) got together and pressured the teacher to have Christopher withdraw from her class. He used words like "dead" and "kill," and generally was a "bad influence" and had "poor table manners." (It was true, he didn't use a knife and fork very well. On the other hand, he no longer stuffed cottage cheese in his pockets, either. Little victories.) That experience reminded me how important it is to teach children tolerance and consideration even at a very young age. (Christopher taught his classmates "kill," but they taught him "stupid.")
33. A better understanding of the Fatherhood of God. God has adopted each of us, calls each of us His children. The full extent of this hit me after we adopted our kids. An adoptive parent loves regardless of whether we are loved back. An adoptive parent looks for ways to reach out and communicate that love. An adoptive parent must be patient, and allow the child to approach on his terms in order to build a sense of safety. God is like that, too.
34. A better understanding of Mary as Mother. She had one perfect child, and was herself "immaculate." This was way out of my league … most days I had to aspire to "adequate." But by becoming an adoptive parent, I cultivated the habit of turning to Mary throughout the day, just as my children turned to me. And just like a good adoptive mom, Mary waited for me to ask for help … and stepped right in with what I needed most.
35. A better understanding of the cross. This most public and painful of excruciating deaths was what it took for the Son of God to complete the salvific work done on our behalf. To a certain extent, parenting shares a certain amount of painful and public humiliations … but adoptive parents get to share in it in a unique way. Just when we want to shout to the world, "IT'S NOT MY FAULT THAT THIS KID _____," we realize that this would do no good anyway. So we take a deep breath, get a better hold of ourselves, and keep going. Others have gone before us, and will come after us, who can empathize. But even Our Lord felt the weight of rejection … "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (The difference is, of course, that we are never truly alone.)
36. Limitless writing material. When in the early throes of parenthood, my brain cells wouldn't arrange themselves into coherent sentences, so I did a lot of late-night journaling. The stories from those first months are precious to me now, and the whole parenting experience has given my writing a texture and nuance that wasn't there before.
37. A bigger heart. I have more patience now, and am less quick to jump on other people's shortcomings. I know that there is often more than meets the eye in any family situation. And I try to be as generous and understanding as others have been with me.
38. An appreciation for the "encouraging word." Sarah and Christopher are in opposite ends of the behavior spectrum. Sarah responds to praise infinitely better than even the most constructive criticism. Her eyes light up when you celebrate her accomplishments with her … and her foul moods pass like a thundercloud if she catches the sunshine of my smile.
39. Their birth family. I've heard that the essential bond between a child and his first (or birth) parents is never truly broken. The loss of that bond is something that affects a child for life, no matter how wonderful the people who adopt him (or her.) Someday, I'm going to have to help my children come to terms with this loss … and will be able to tell them about a mother who never wanted to let them go, but got caught in a lifetime of bad choices. Knowing her story has encouraged me to look at my own choices a little more carefully. I never want to inflict that kind of pain on another human being.
40. Adoption has changed me … mostly for the better. People look into adoption for all kinds of reasons. Some are infertile. Some have a heart for a certain country or a certain kind of child. Some have relatives they simply don't want to see go "into the system." Some decide it is the definitive pro-life choice (which it is). But whatever motivates a person to love in the abstract, that motivation changes when a particular child enters your life. That's when the transformation truly begins. Yes, you are about to change a child's life … for the better, one can only hope. But be prepared: that child is going to change you, too. Count on it.