his story

My ten year old son Chris asked if he could write something for my blog. He wanted to share his story. The following post is written by him–these are his unedited words. 


 

My name is Chris and I have two dads. I was born in Oregon. I lived there with my grandma and grandpa and sisters. I love them and miss them. My sister Brittany and I would play cars and I played Mariokart on the DS my grandma gave me.

After my grandfather died, I went to live with a foster family. I stayed there for two years. My foster parents were named Brandi and Neal and they were very nice. I was grateful for them. They had a big backyard. There were other kids in the foster home and we played in the yard. All the kids were adopted, but then new kids would come to live there and we would play the Wii. I kept bugging my caseworker to find me a family.

When my caseworker told me I was going to be adopted I was very happy. I was so excited to meet my new family. I couldn’t stop smiling. The first time I met my Dads I thought they were awesome. They love me so much. I make them happy. We play all the time and now I have a brother too.

Some people think it’s strange having two Dads, but I don’t because I never had a mom and also because my Dads love me very much. I am so grateful for them and for being adopted.

Adoption gave me a family.

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puppies for sale!

Last week this article was making the rounds on the internet: READ HERE

The article was about four siblings (ages 1, 3, 5, and 10) who were currently in foster care, but were now in need of a forever home. It read like a typical adoption profile complete with phrases like “the sweetest kids ever!” and “very smart!”

It gave a brief biography about each child, detailing the good and winking around the not-so good. The article was topped off by a photo of the four children, dressed in their color-coordinated Sunday best and smiling happily for all the world to consider.

(Cue sad music and Sarah McLachlan voiceover.)

Now because I have two adopted sons and because I have written a book about my experiences adopting, several friends thoughtfully posted the article on my social media.

I read it. I considered the photo. And then I got mad.

I was offended.

I hated the article. It minimized our adoption journey. It diminished our children’s story.

I have no doubt that the motivations in publishing this glorified adoption profile were pure. I am confident that The Northwest Florida Daily News meant only to draw attention to adoption and for that I applaud them.

There are more than 400,000 children in foster care with nearly one quarter of that number in need of a forever home, so adoption needs a voice.

But with its frame-ready photo and easy-breezy narrative this article served only to trivialize the adoption process. Certainly the comments on social media as well as those in the original NWF Daily News posting did just that with (supposedly) well-meaning people writing:

“I want them all! Please contact us.”

“Aww! They are so cute! I want them!”

“Are they free?”

“I’ll take them! I want babies.”

“Bring them on. I’ll take all four!”

First, adoption is not that easy. You cannot just say, “I’ll take them!” People interested in adoption first must be certified as a viable resource foster parent. In Pennsylvania this certification is a rigorous months-long process that requires more than 40 hours of parenting classes, FBI background checks, mountains of paperwork, references, a home study…the list goes on.

Then after being certified, prospective parents enter the matching phase. This back-and-forth between your caseworker and the caseworker of a waiting child can take anywhere from two weeks to two years…or more.

Becoming a parent is hard work.

These kids have already had one set of parents disappoint them. The last thing they need is to have another set of jokers flake on them. Simply put, if you’re the kind of person given to making statements like, “Bring them on. I’ll take all four!” then adoption is not for you.

Second, these are children. They are not puppies. I repeat, they are not puppies. This is not a craigslist ad. These children are not for sale. Their level of cuteness is irrelevant. These are real people with real problems. Most of these kids have been through shit that we can’t even imagine. They have been neglected and abused and abandoned, often multiple times, the victims of a system meant to protect them but one that seems hell-bent on breaking them.

So if you want these children, then do something. Stop making comments and start taking action. These children are more than a trending diversion in your newsfeed. They require more than your momentary consideration. They deserve more than your well-meaning empty declarations.

You see a cute photo.

I see a lifelong commitment.

(not) just some woman

I never met her. She was just this woman in a photograph. A stranger. My youngest son’s birth mother. Yesterday I received an email informing me that this woman, this stranger, my youngest son’s birth mother had died. And even though I never knew her, even though she was no one to me, even though I had hated her, I looked over at my son, barely six years old, and I was overcome by such profound sadness.

She was gone and he would never know her.

My son has no memory of this woman, his mother. She was as much a stranger to him as she was to me. He was taken from her custody at a very young age, the result of her poor choices and the unfortunate lifestyle that ultimately claimed her life. In the past when my son spoke of “his mother” he was referring to his foster mother, the only mother he had ever known, but still, this woman who died two weeks ago, she made him and if it had not been for her my son would not be my son.

One day my son will no longer be barely six years old and he will understand his story and he will realize before his fathers before his foster mother before his caseworkers there was his mother and he will ask about her.

He will ask who she was and what she looked like and does he look like her and why did she stop being his mother and can he meet her.

A few months ago we learned that my son’s birth mother had contacted his former caseworker. She had been asking about us. She wanted a photo or to send a birthday card or maybe to write a letter, I can’t remember.

Even though there was nothing she could have done, his adoption had been finalized and she had relinquished parental rights years ago, I was angry by her sudden reappearance. Since that moment I had been worried that she would somehow find out where we lived and show up unannounced on our doorstep. I worried that she would upset my son and cause confusion and disrupt our perfect life. And so when I read that email, before I looked over at my son before I felt such profound sadness, I felt relief.

And now I just feel guilty. And sad. And after I closed the email I hugged my son and I told him I loved him and he playfully pushed me away and said, “Not now, Dad.” And I suppose right now in this moment I just hope that one day when my son asks about his mother, after I tell him the truth, after I hug him, after I tell him I love him, he won’t push me away.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here.

 

 

holiday (monster truck) blues

The holidays can be a time of great joy and celebration, but also a time of profound sadness and grief. The period between carving a turkey and opening presents can bring up a host of memories for many people, especially adopted children. Perhaps it’s the tradition of the day or the gathering of families or the ghosts of holidays past. Whatever the reason, the days leading up to these special moments can be an emotional minefield.

For my two sons, both adopted, the holidays are a reminder of all they have lost—family, friends, pets, a favorite toy. The life our boys had before often goes unmentioned for months at a time, but every December, like the ghosts that haunt Scrooge, they reappear and make their presence known.

It was Chris who this year first began to steal visits down memory lane. At Thanksgiving dinner he waxed nostalgic about his grandmother’s mashed potatoes and her homemade mac-n-cheese. A few weeks later he recalled all the Christmas mornings spent playing with his three older sisters. Last night he told me (for the first time) about a blue monster truck his foster parents had given to him.

As Chris told me in great detail about this much-loved truck, I began to understand that he was not telling me so much as reminding himself. I could hear the sadness in my son’s voice as he tried to hold on to his former life, to maintain a connection to a past that grew more and more distant with each passing day.

I was reminded of this truth this past weekend as we cut down our Christmas tree. On our way to the tree farm Elijah began to talk about his “mom” and his life in West Virginia. Elijah was telling us a story about his (former) dogs when suddenly he paused and whispered, “I can’t remember their names anymore.”

If you want to know what it feels like to have your heart break or if you ever need a good cry, just imagine a five year old coming to the realization that life is full of pain.

These ghosts used to scare me. They would make me doubt myself as a parent and question my children’s happiness because if I were a good parent and if my children were truly happy then why would they need to visit the past? I thought the only way for our family to move forward was to run from these ghosts, but to run from them would be to deny my children their story.

And that would be wrong.

I tell myself those dogs had a name and that those names are important. I remind myself that while life at grandma’s house was not always easy for Chris, there were mashed potatoes and homemade mac-n-cheese and Christmas mornings with his sisters.

There were blue monster trucks.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here. Why haven’t you bought it yet?! Seriously.

why aren’t you talking about my children?

November is National Adoption Month, but then you probably didn’t know that because CNN and MSNBC and FOX and The New York Times and The Washington Post and Twitter and Facebook and the entire Internet have yet to notify you of that fact.

There are 415,000 children in foster care in the United States. That is almost a half million children, or roughly the population of Wyoming, without a permanent home.

Every night these kids go to bed not knowing where they belong or if they belong. And every year more than 20,000 of them age out of the foster system. These kids have no family. They have no home.

Each year, we, the so-called greatest country in the world, turn our backs on these 20,000 children. We abandon them.

Still not interested?  Still not willing to hashtag adoption?  Still not willing to launch an all-out Facebook assault on your friends and family who think adoption “isn’t their problem?”

Perhaps it’s because adoption is benign. It isn’t sexy or controversial enough to warrant your concern. It doesn’t sell papers or generate page views.

There are no flag overlays for adoption. It fails to inspire hashtags. It lacks conflict.

It isn’t a red cup at war with Christmas.

It isn’t Syria.

But then this post isn’t about Syria. For the purposes of this post Syria is a prop and before you judge me for that truth bomb I caution you to go back over your social media feeds because the only difference between you and me is that I’m being honest.

A week from now after Syria has runs its course in our collective consciousness and the news cycle has moved onto its next big story I’m simply asking you to remember that those 415,000 kids will still be there.

Those kids will still need a home.

No one is talking about them now. No one is probably going to talk about them tomorrow, but they will still be there.

Now I am not implying that these nearly half a million homegrown children are more important than children in other parts of the world or refugees from Syria or people in Paris or homeless veterans. I am saying that these kids are here and they’re not going anywhere and no one is talking about them.

And why is that?

If Anderson Cooper or Megyn Kelly or Rachel Maddow or a minion dressed as Caitlyn Jenner told you right now to drop everything and talk about adoption would it suddenly merit your undivided attention? Would you go into keyboard warrior-mode and obsessively begin to post every link you could find on adoption? Would you casually begin to throw around the adoption equivalent of twenty-five cent phrases like “white privilege” and fifty cent words like “xenophobe”?

If I could go back in time and snap a photo of my son as a baby sitting in the corner of what was probably a crack house with a blanket thrown over him while his birth parents shot up drugs or if I could travel to another time and take a photo of my other son’s birth mother in jail while five months pregnant with him would these images bring a tear to your eye?

Would these photos incite your passion? Would you spend your day littering Facebook with an endless stream of nonsensical memes if foster children were like those puppies in the Sarah McLachlan commercial?

Would they, at last, deserve your consideration?

Would they?

For the record, I’m not implying that I’m better than you because I did something; because I adopted two of those 415,000 kids. The truth is my interest in adoption was self-serving. I had no time for adoption until adoption could do something for me.

But now that I know about adoption, now that those statistics are a part of my life, now that those numbers have a face, I wonder, why are there not more people taking action?

Because you don’t need to adopt to make a difference. You don’t need to foster to make a difference. There are so many ways in which you can change the lives of these children who are living in unsafe conditions, who don’t have a home, whose future is Dickensian.

Consider, the woman who saw a young mother living in a tent with her baby and called children services. The caseworker who removed a child from the home of his drug addicted grandmother. Those people, who by the way made it possible for us to have our children, did nothing more than care about something that wasn’t on the news or trending on social media.

I have been told that these two issues (Syria and adoption) are like comparing apples to oranges, and while that may be true, I don’t necessarily believe that the apples are more important than the oranges or vice versa. I just believe the apples get all the attention on your newsfeed while the oranges don’t even merit a share.

And for the record, yes, I am aware of just how manipulative this post is, because who’s going to be the person who calls out the guy who adopted two kids, but if this calculated manipulation gets you to consider for even thirty seconds the plight of these 415,000 kids with as much passion as you’ve exercised over the past few weeks on Syrian refugees and red cups then it will have been worth it.

Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here. Why haven’t you bought it yet?! Seriously.

the other parents

This story was originally published on August 31, 2015 on The New Family.


This is my family. From the outside we may look different from most families, but the truth is we are just like every family. And just like every family the story of how we came together is unique. It took us a long time to find each other. I first met my husband in 1997. We grew up in the same very small town; separated by four years we seemed to always just miss each other at school. It wasn’t until after college when I began working across the street from his house that we finally met. Looking back it seems odd that we never encountered each other before that cold February day eighteen years ago, but like most things in life it was about the timing.

Our kids are perfect examples of that timing. We adopted our two sons, Chris in 2013 and Elijah this past year. It took a lot to bring the four of us together. In those early days when my husband and I were still getting to know each other, setting up house and accumulating dogs, our sons had not even been born. During our thirties when we were living a carefree life in New York City, Chris was just beginning his life on the other side of the country. By the time we met Elijah he was a walking, talking, mostly toilet using five year old.

My husband and I believe the boys were always meant to be our children, but we also understand that how these two kids came to be ours was due in great part to forces beyond our control.

The story of our family begins not with us, but with strangers. People we have never met. People we will never meet. These two sets of strangers are my children’s birth parents. They created my children; without them my children would not exist. I owe them everything because without them I would have nothing.

For reasons that no longer seem relevant, these two sets of strangers were unable to care for their children – now, my children – and so government entities intervened, agencies were called and caseworkers were enlisted. These caseworkers stayed with my children for many years. They were the one constant in a sea of uncertainty. They helped our kids navigate the difficult transition from birth parent to foster parent to forever family.

While my husband and I waited to meet our children it was their foster parents who cared for them. These unsung heroes taught my children to use the bathroom and color within the lines and understand their emotions and read and write and a million other things parents do every day. They kept a place, giving them hugs and bandaging their scraped knees. They were everything we could not be because the timing wasn’t right.

Until it was.

Two years ago it was just my husband and I — complete, but not quite.  Then the universe gave us Chris and Elijah. They changed our lives; they made us complete.

We became a family because of other people – these strangers and caseworkers and heroes who brought us together. Us. Four people in a world of seven billion. We found each other across four decades and thousands of miles and impossible odds.

That’s pretty remarkable.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One of You is the Mother? Available on Amazon Kindle and Paperback.