Life with my bio/adopt/foster family was always interesting and always changing.
My first connection to adoption was a toothy, hairless Cabbage Patch kid with a scrawling Xavier Roberts tattoo on his posterior. My second connection arrived as two-year-old toddlers – twin brothers that would be my family’s first step into the world of adoption. I stopped counting those connections soon after. More children arrived. Our family expanded exponentially. Friends jumped on board, adopting little and big ones. Even an aunt and uncle joined in. Adoption was everywhere.
The ringing phone brought positive news and congratulatory messages. One day, however, the phone rang for a very different reason. The voice on the other end had an air of desperation. A child’s adoption was disrupting. They had nowhere for him to go. Could my parents open their home to a foster child?
They did, and he came, and he stayed for two years. He taught us so much in that time. He planted the fostering tree in our family’s orchard, one that would grow to greater heights than we could have imagined. Fifteen years later, my Dad just celebrated his 73rd birthday. He’s said hello, and goodbye (and sometimes “You’re here to stay”) to more than 50 children over the years. And he’s still bouncing babies on the end of his knee.
The same, but different
But how does a child make sense of their role in a family like ours? We have been born into, adopted, and fostered by the same parents. We were expected to live, love (and sometimes hate) each other equally. “You’re just adopted,” or “You’re just a foster kid,” was forbidden language. We were all the same, but still different.
It was an interesting experience. There was no rule book to follow. No way to explain that some were here by fluke of nature, others by careful matching, and some by necessity for a short time or long time… no one knew.
When I moved out on my own and got married, it seemed fitting to adopt a child. We welcomed our son -– my foster brother, in fact -- and watched our own family tree blossom. It seemed so perfect, but it added to the confusion. My younger siblings who were used to saying “hello and goodbye,” suddenly had to contend with the reality that the children who were here “just for a while” suddenly had the possibility to stay forever.
So we carried on. We loved them. And our hearts broke when it was time to let go. I know how hard it is on my parents, Mom especially, when each treasured little one moves back home or on to adoptive families. The grief is real. Those celebratory phone calls advising, “Little one is going home!”, are coupled with a unique blend of joy and heartache.
My youngest sister, herself a former foster child in my parents’ home, the only one who was fostered first and then adopted by my parents, relives that love and joy and grief when every foster child moves on. Too often I hear the cooing of a new baby in the background when I call to say hello. I can feel my heart twinge the same way it responded to my son’s cries. My heart breaks a little when I learn they, too, have moved on.
The truth is, there is no rule book. No way to navigate except with love, faith, and acceptance that each child has a plan, and we are a special part of it. We love, receive love, and accept that each child has a destination – a home and a place in life’s journey.
The only constant is love. We are lucky enough to share their light for a little while, and, sometimes, if we are truly blessed, it is forever.
Sarah Reid is AFABC’s Family Development Team Lead and Community Engager.