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.

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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.

crying on the toilet and other bathroom distractions

The following is an excerpt from my book Which One of You is the Mother? You can purchase the book on Amazon here.


The difference between five and nine is greater than four. We learned this new math in the days and weeks following Elijah’s placement with us. I had imagined a five year old would arrive factory ready — just plug him in, flip the switch and presto! you have a fully functioning mini humanoid. This is untrue. It turns out five year olds are basically talking babies that can use the toilet. You still have to bathe them, dress them, tie their shoes, hold their hands in public, teach them to read, force them to nap, force them to brush their teeth, monitor them as they brush their teeth, and clean up after they brush their teeth, and while they may be able to talk the toilet business is 50/50 on a good day.

Chris was a breeze in comparison. Granted he was a few years older, so he could be trusted to take a bath, dress himself and not run out into traffic. Elijah was another story. He was exhausting. He required constant attention. I laugh at the former me who once considered adopting a child under the age of three. I could absolutely handle a newborn, I bragged to my friends and family. If an all-things-considered-well-behaved five year old nearly drove me to the brink a newborn would have killed me.

And Elijah is a good kid. Oh sure sometimes he pees his pants while waiting in line at the amusement park but otherwise he’s fairly continent. He is an average five year old who listens 75% of the time and hates napping. He has never once been horrible in public, which is more than I could say for those non-GMO-gluten-free-Paleo kids I see at the mall. (And for the record, I see you other parents judging me when my son eats his genetically modified deep-fried sugar-dipped potato-in-a-bun.) Elijah may ask a million questions but he asks them because he’s curious. He wants to learn. There is no end to his inquisition: What are clouds? Where does the moon sleep? Do girls have wieners? I do my best to answer his questions, but I also recognize that I am not an expert in meteorology, astronomy or female anatomy.

The endless questions were nothing compared to the boundless energy and I began to fear that I had met my match. Here I was a forty year old man and my undoing would be at the hands of a five year old. Elijah had been with us for about two weeks the Sunday afternoon I fell victim to a plate of questionable Middle Eastern kebabs. Food poisoning is never pleasant and I spent the better part of the night projectile vomiting the previous day’s spaghetti dinner.

The next morning I awoke dehydrated with a blinding headache. If it had been just me I could have managed the situation. I would have popped a few aspirin, confined myself to the couch and slept the day away. But it wasn’t just me. It was me and a five year old (due to a clerical error Elijah was still not enrolled in school).  Todd had gone back to work the previous week and now I was on daddy duty, food poisoning be damned.

Five year olds don’t understand being sick. They don’t understand blinding headaches and dehydration. They cannot be left to their own devices while you cough your best Camille in some faraway Bavarian sanatorium. Five year olds want to play and be five. Five year olds do not want to sit quietly and watch Law & Order reruns all day. They instead prefer to run through the house singing at top volume and pretending to be a Disney princess. At least that’s what my five year old preferred to do on this particular day. When I suggested we take a nap after his 437th encore of Let It Go, he laughed at me. My five year old son laughed at me and then he threw all forty pounds of his little body onto my stomach which at this point, now void of food, had begun to digest my internal organs.

It was sometime around 2:45 p.m. that I excused myself to the bathroom where I cried for seven and a half peaceful minutes.

I do this a lot now. I excuse myself to the bathroom and I cry. The bathroom is my sanctuary. I have spent the better part of an hour holed up behind its locked door, watching videos on my phone or reading the back of the shampoo bottle. Sometimes I turn on the water and I pretend I’m taking a shower. Sometimes I slip down into the bubbles and let Calgon take me away. Sometimes I fall asleep on the toilet.

I would kill for a midday nap. I think most adults wish they could indulge in a nap at some point during the day. But children hate naps. If I tell Elijah to take a nap he will collapse on the floor and begin to sob uncontrollably. The first time he did this I hurriedly closed all the windows in the house, afraid that the neighbors would think I was beating him. Now if I even mention the word nap he launches into a five-act opera entitled Emotionally Unstable Italian Grandmother at the Funeral of Her Dead Husband.

The truth is we’re still figuring him out. He’s an odd little kid; he thinks it’s hilarious to look you directly in the eyes when you’re speaking to him and then do the exact opposite of what you just told him to do even though you’re sure he heard you because, after all, he was looking you directly in the eyes when you were talking to him. He also loves to repeat everything you say except for those moments when he’s pretending not to hear you. He eats nothing but chicken nuggets with mustard. Give him a choice between eating a plate of fresh vegetables and being water boarded by Dick Cheney and he’d go with virtual drowning by Darth Vader.

If Chris is the very definition of resilience, then Elijah is the very definition of obstinance.

But still, he makes me laugh. His preschool teacher remarked that she had never before met a five year old who understood sarcasm…and then used it. His caseworker noted in his file that Elijah was “a chameleon”. She said, “He could adapt to any environment and would often assume the personalities of those around him.” It was no doubt a coping mechanism he had adopted, the result of having lived in so many different homes.

In the foster home where he lived before, Elijah had been taught that physical affection was unacceptable; there were no hugs or goodnight kisses. He adapted to this environment and learned to live without affection. When we met him Elijah was emotionally reserved, if not aloof and frosty. He forbade us to hug or kiss him for those first few months. One night before bed he told me that I could not kiss him on the cheek because “boys don’t kiss”. They do in this house, I said, but respected his wishes. Finally after months of watching us shower Chris with affection Elijah changed his outlook. Now he hugs first and when we tuck the boys into bed he demands to be kissed goodnight.

Time moves slowly when you are living inside a moment. In the time before hugs and kisses Elijah would only call us by our first names; it seemed we would never be Dad and Papa. We never forced the issue. If he was comfortable calling us Sean and Todd then he could call us Sean and Todd. Still, when addressing one another in front of him we always referred to each other as Dad and Papa. We instructed Chris to do the same when talking about us to Elijah. We laid the groundwork and it took time, but eventually Elijah began to experiment with our new names until those new names became our only names. Now every morning he wakes me up by crawling into bed and whispering mischievously into my ear, “Daddy!”  Now he rushes Todd at the door and with open arms delivers a welcoming, “Papa!” No longer Sean and Todd, now it seems we are who we have always been, his Dad and Papa.

He has become so much like the three of us; it’s hard to know who he is after us especially when we never knew who he was before us. Our obstinate little chameleon has now assumed our manner of speaking, our casual attitude, our sense of humor. Unfortunately he has also adopted some of Chris’s less desirable qualities, like selective laziness. Long gone are the days when Elijah would voluntarily (and thoroughly) clean up after himself. We’ve said goodbye to the boy who eagerly offered to set the dinner table. Now we’re left with the pint-sized smartass who, when asked to carry more than one bag of groceries into the house, indignantly replies, “I only have two hands”.

The difference between five and nine is still greater than four. But with each whisper of Daddy, with each offer of I love you, with each willing hug that difference shrinks. Chris and Elijah wanted a forever home, but what they received in the bargain was so much more than a roof and four walls. They found each other. Elijah idolizes Chris and has assumed the role of loyal companion and much smaller shadow. And Chris, the boy who wanted an older brother, has himself taken that role and become the defender, confidante and best friend.


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 question that inspired the post that started the blog that inspired the book

This was my first post on this blog. It appeared in October 2014.


Sixteen months ago we adopted our son Chris.  We are trendsetters (not really) so this was way before gay adoption become fashionable.  Kind of like how we got gay-married two and a half years years before it became legal.  Or how we started watching Orange Is the New Black before everyone on Facebook was taking those quizzes to determine if they were an Alex or a Piper.

At that point in our relationship Todd and I had been together for almost 17 years so it was either get another dog, adopt a kid or grow old in a suffocating air of quiet resentment.  As appealing as quiet resentment is to both of us, I think we chose best because Chris is the absolute best thing ever in the whole wide world and I (we) cannot remember what our lives were like before he agreed to let us be his dads.  I know we had a life before Chris, but in retrospect, I think we were just killing time until we could adopt him …because as I said he is the best thing ever in the whole wide world (even when he isn’t and, boy, does that little shit have his moments).

So sixteen months ago we adopted our son Chris and became (hot) gay Dads.  The best part of this (aside from Chris) was that no one noticed.  I mean people were happy for us and incredibly supportive, but in the context of us being two guys adopting a kid, it was not a big deal.  The day after the adoption the headline in the local paper did not read: “Local Gays Adopt 7 Year Old!  Younger of the Two Dads Even Hotter Now!”  It was a non-event and I liked that because it meant we were living in a time and place where something as superficial as our gender was irrelevant.

And for the most part that has remained true.  But every now and again I am met with this question: “Which one of you is the mother?”  The first time someone asked me that question, I laughed, thinking it was a joke.  But when they repeated the question, and I realized they were serious, I was just confused.  I mean, seriously, how in the hell do you answer that question?

“Which one of you is the mother?”  Well if we’re relying strictly on gender stereotypes, then I suppose, as the more emotional of the two, that I fit the maternal role.  But then in terms of household duties it’s a 50/50 split: I clean, but Todd does the laundry and we both do the cooking.  Todd is better at dressing cuts and bruises; while I just look better in a dress.  And although Todd gives better hugs, I am Oscar-worthy in my role as a manipulative, overbearing drunk.

Ultimately, the problem with the question is that it is not the question.  They ask, “Which one of you is the mother,” but what they really mean to say is, “Which one of you is the WOMAN?”  It’s that age-old heterosexual preoccupation people have with two guys and sex: what goes where.  I hate that question and I hate that anyone even considers it when they see me with my family.  But oh well, there you have it.  I should probably just be happy they gave me a kid.


Which One of You is the Mother? is available for pre-order on Amazon: Buy Which One of You is the Mother? here. No seriously, buy it now. It’s only $4.99 for the Kindle version and $9.99 for the paperback edition. A venti Starbucks Frappuccino costs more and unlike that Frappuccino this book won’t make you fat(ter).

the rules of estrangement

History is full of epic smackdowns. David and Goliath. Ali and Frazier. Joan and Christina Crawford. This past weekend my children bitch slapped their way on to this showdown shortlist, going ten rounds in a knock-down-drag-out face-off six months in the making.

In the blue corner towering in at 64 inches tall and weighing a lean 108 pounds it’s Chris “Jazz Hands” Eagleton. And in the red corner looking up at 42 inches small and punching in well above his weight it’s Elijah “The Bulldog” Metz. Alright boys, let’s have a clean fight. No unauthorized sports metaphors. No hitting below the belt. No low blows. No sucker punches. The gloves are off. Don’t throw in the towel. Just roll with the punches. Homerun! Touchdown! Put on your character turbans…and scene!

And so it went. All weekend long. We were stuck in a constant loop of tears, tattles and tussles. They fought over the TV. They fought over the Xbox. They fought over who got to sit across from me at the dinner table. They pushed and shoved and called names. They were little assholes from sun up until sun down. Monday morning could not come fast enough.

Siblings fight. Families disagree. I haven’t spoken to my own brother in more than two years. I have not been in the same room as my sister since Christmas 2012. Neither of them has ever met my children. Stuff happens. Time passes. We have all missed out on so much. My parents met Chris twice. I sent them a photo of Elijah, a gesture of obligation.

Like all good estrangements no one can say for sure why it started…it just did and now it is.

There are no villains. There are no innocent victims. No one is to blame and everyone is to blame. Hurt feelings turn to resentment and resentment turns to indifference until enough time has passed and you start to think the only thing you ever had in common was DNA.

Except what happens when you don’t have even DNA in common?

I vow that my children will not end up like me; estranged from a family I love even on days when I don’t like them very much. I see my boys fight – these accidental brothers – and I remind myself that this behavior is normal. It is a part of growing up. It does not portend future discord. My siblings and I rarely fought as children. We became friends as adults. Yet, look at us now. There are no guarantees. No right ways to do anything.

Chris and Elijah are still learning how to be a family. Territories need to be marked and order must be asserted. With each unkind name, each shove, each hysterical tear they are establishing a bond. They are making up for a past they never shared. So I let my kids go all ten rounds because I know it’s just a show. Because I know they have something stronger than blood ties; they have each other’s backs.

making a list, checking it twice!

I apologize. I hate social media top ten lists. I realize I’m in the minority here because the truth is these lists are incredibly popular. They generate insane numbers of shares and views. I suppose they’re popular because they don’t require much thinking. Certainly not for the lazy writer who counts the top ten list among his top ten best friends. Shame on every last one of you lazy writers for phoning it in and shame on you for reading these lists…and for clicking on those You Won’t Believe What Happens Next videos. (You know what happens next? Exactly what you would expect to happen next.)

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest please enjoy today’s blog post 10 Ways My Life Has Changed Since I Adopted My Sons

  1. People think I’m selfless. This is a common misconception. When you tell someone that you adopted your children they assume you are good person because only a good person would do something so selfless. Whatever. Adopting my kids was the most selfish thing I ever did. Basically I wanted something and I got it and then I ate donuts. End of story.
  2.  I got Christmas back. When I was a kid I loved Christmas. I would stay up all night waiting for Santa Claus. The weeks leading up to his arrival were pure magic and there was nothing better than Christmas Eve, the one night of the year when I believed that anything was possible. But then I grew up and slowly Christmas started to lose its magic. I would still go through the motions, but it was hollow. Then I had kids and poof! Christmas was back. Suddenly I’m a five year old again, staying up all night, and embracing the incredible magic of one perfect night. Is there a Santa Claus? Absolutely.
  3. I have two children. This one is a bit obvious, but every good top ten list has padding. Still, nothing will change your life more than being responsible for tiny people.
  4. I have a stronger relationship with my husband. Todd and I have had our ups and downs over the years, and it’s no secret that in the years leading up to adopting we were in a downswing. Fortunately we got our act together and just when we realized we didn’t have to be together it made us want to be together. I’ve known Todd for almost twenty years and I thought there was nothing left to know about him, but then I saw him as a father and I fell in love with him all over again. Having the boys has made me see and appreciate my husband in a new way. He is, simply put, the best person I know. I admire and love him.
  5. I watch cartoons again. Before the age of ten I watched cartoons nonstop, then I found soap operas and it was goodbye Garfield & Friends and hello General Hospital. Maybe I just got tired of the recycled plots or maybe it was the day ABC cancelled One Life to Live, but I turned away from soaps around the time we adopted Chris. Now I spend my evenings catching up Teen Titans and I leave the goings-on in Port Charles to a new generation of ten year olds.
  6. I played baseball with my son. I hated playing baseball as a kid. My Dad made me play because he thought I should and he thought I should because he knew I was different and I think having me play baseball was his way of trying to make sure I fit in, and for that I thank him. But still, it is a painfully boring game. And even though my kids show no interest in sports (yet) one of the best first days of being a Dad was the day I took Chris to the park and we played catch. It was a rite of passage that made me feel more like his father than a thousand re-issued birth certificates.
  7. I learned patience. I have a temper. I blame it on ten years spent directing plays in the theater and working with needy adult children. I screamed a lot as a director but I only screamed because I knew if I hit people I would probably go to jail. Anyway, parenting children is a breeze after you’ve worked with a gaggle of passive aggressive narcissists (there were exceptions, you know who you are!)
  8. I became a better version of my parents. My parents were very good parents, but they did have stumbles. I have the benefit of their experience and being able to learn from their wrong turns just as I hope my children will learn from my mistakes.
  9. I gained 25 30 35 pounds. The reason you gain weight when you have kids is not because you don’t have time to exercise. The reason you gain weight when you have kids is because you eat all the leftover food on their plate every night. And then eat a half gallon of ice cream while you catch up on Call the Midwife.
  10. I downsized. My weight notwithstanding, I have really cut back in every aspect of my life. My circle of friends is now a short line. I don’t waste money and hours at the mall. I don’t need stuff to make me happy because my family makes me happy. They bring out the best in me that isn’t always there. My husband and children are all I need. Ten years ago such simplicity would have made me run screaming into the night, but now I find comfort in just how easy it is to be happy.

Now please share the hell out of this top ten list as you are required to do by the gods of social media.