the problem with people

 

This past weekend my 10-year-old son Chris made his stage debut in a production at a local theater. During the intermission, I was swapping parenting war stories with a fellow nontraditional parent whose child was also in the production. We talked about being a nontraditional family and what that meant: our experiences dealing with the schools, funny anecdotes about encounters with strangers at restaurants, tips on how best to navigate the holidays with unsupportive families. After a particularly grueling story he remarked, something to the effect of, “It’s 2016.  What’s wrong with people?”

Now that I have children in this world it’s a question I find myself asking again and again.

What is wrong with people?

Despite my son’s sometimes larger-than-life, always outgoing personality, he has struggled to make friends at school and in the neighborhood. He gets along famously with adults, working the room like a seasoned politician, but with kids his own age he flounders, often regarding his peers as if they were aliens visiting from another planet.

So when the new school year began a few weeks ago I was thrilled to hear all about a friend he had made. The boy was a new student, and he and Chris took an instant liking to one another, bonding over Minecraft and other matters of importance to the average ten year old. They sat together at lunch, took selfies together on the bus, worked together on class projects.

At last, a friend, I thought.

Everything seemed to be going well until my son asked the boy if he wanted to come over to our house to play. The boy told him that he did want to come over, very much so, but his mother would not allow it. It seems she did not want him to be friends with my son. In fact, she forbid him to be friends with my son.

She said that being gay was wrong and because Chris had two dads our home was unacceptable. She went on to tell her son that because Chris had two dads this also meant that he, my son, had to be gay. She concluded by threatening to send her son to a different school if he continued being friends with Chris.

I am rarely without words, but on the car ride home from school that day, I was speechless.

What is wrong with people?

I eventually found my words and after internally revising my expletive-laden monologue, I reassured my son of the thing he already knew: there was nothing wrong with his family. I reminded him that he had two parents who loved him which was two more than a lot of other kids had.

I told him that although his friend’s mother was a mean-spirited and hateful woman (and yes, she was, and yes, my son needed to understand that there are people like that in the world) – this boy who my son called a friend was not to be judged or condemned for the actions of his mother.

My son was to say nothing to the boy on the subject because to do so would put this boy in the position of having to defend his family, the very same position this boy’s mother had put my son in, and no one should ever have to defend or explain away their family…even if that family is headed up by an angry, narrow-minded, spiteful bigot.

I informed the school of the situation and they were appalled. They assured me that all types of families were welcome and celebrated within their hallways. The principal said that while they cannot control what happens after a child leaves the school (nor would I expect them to), once the kids walked through the front doors everyone was to be respected regardless of where they came from or who their parents were, and any parent who had an issue with that was free to take their child elsewhere.

Chris is determined to remain friends with the boy and the boy is determined to remain friends with Chris. Perhaps easier said than done given the boy’s mother, but still, I applaud both boys for being better ambassadors than the generations of people who came before them.

It may in fact be 2016, but incidents like this remind us that for as much as progress as we like to think we’ve made we are not that far removed from a time when parents would tell their kids, “You cannot be friends with that boy because he’s black.”  It reminds us that we are living right now in a time when parents tell their kids, “You cannot be friends with that boy because he has two dads.”

What is wrong with people?


Sean Michael O’Donnell is 41 year old married gay man. He lives in Pittsburgh with his husband and two sons. Sean enjoys Law & Order reruns, Christmas movies in October, and Facebook stalking. He likes donuts and beer. Sometimes he goes to the gym.  He is the author of the blog seansbiggayblog where he attempt to chronicle his experiences as a parent.  The contents of his blog (and life) are 75% truth, 18% satire, 6% hyperbole and 1% drama. He is also the author of Which One of You is the Mother?

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when chris met hillary

My son has a thing for grandmas. If you dropped him into the middle of a retirement community he would come home a week later with a pocketful of butterscotch discs and enough loose change to pay for college. Once at a yard sale he flashed a smile at a group of older women and walked away with twenty dollars worth of free merchandise and a five dollar bill. So it was no surprise when he took a liking to Hillary Clinton, a woman who ticks all the grandmother boxes and yet still manages to rock a pantsuit.

Over the weekend I took my son to see Hillary Clinton speak in Pittsburgh. We waited in line for almost nine hours and not once did my son complain, which is more than I could say for myself. When at last Hillary finally took to the stage (three hours late!) my son leapt to his feet and began to clap with an energy usually reserved for Minecraft and movie theater popcorn. I’m not sure if in that moment he was star struck, love struck or just simply delirious from having waited in line for nine hours with no food or water, but once he started to clap he did not stop. For thirty-five minutes he clapped, screamed “Hillary!” and listened with a quiet intensity usually reserved for watching YouTube videos of people playing Minecraft.

Here was someone he had seen on TV. Here was someone he had heard his two dads speak passionately about at the dinner table. Here was someone who in 1997 with Republican Whip Tom DeLay co-authored the Adoption and Safe Families Act, bipartisan legislation which 16 years later would help to make his own adoption possible. Here was someone whose commitment and dedication to ALL families meant that his family existed and was safe and respected.

Over the next several days my son would talk about this experience with anyone who would listen, and even a few who would not. He would tell them he had “met Hillary” and that she was going to make sure women received equal pay and that gay people and people of all colors and religious beliefs were respected and that pre-school teachers were given the tools necessary to educate our children because great education begins at the pre-school level, and, because he’s a tech geek his favorite promise, that everyone in the country would have access to high-speed broadband internet.

After the rally I took my son out for hamburgers and milkshakes. It had been a long day and we were both tired and hungry. As we ate our burgers I reminded my son that when (okay, if) Hillary Clinton was elected President she would be the first female president and just as Barack Obama had been the first African-American president, this was incredibly significant. For more than 230 years our racially, ethnically, religiously diverse country with its varied citizenry of people of all ages, sexual orientations, and gender identities had been presided over by middle-aged white men as if the United States of America had been made up of nothing more than middle-aged white men.

A lot of ink has been spilled about what a Hillary Clinton presidency means for young women and girls, but it really is so much more far-reaching than that. As with the election of Barack Obama, a Hillary Clinton presidency would signify a moving forward for our country to a time that could one day see a Hispanic president or a Muslim president or a gay president, maybe even a gay Hispanic Muslim president because it would be kind of fun to watch Pat Robertson momentarily choke on his own bile.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan is “Stronger Together” and like all campaign slogans it is a tad trite and overly simplistic, but its genius lies in its simplicity. My son asked me what it meant, “Stronger Together,” and I replied, “A million is greater than one.” Black, white, Hispanic, Christian, Muslim, disabled, lesbian, gay, transgender, male or female – we are in this together because our differences make us stronger, not weaker.

I can think of no greater lesson to teach to my biracial son, the descendant of Native Americans, a child of the foster care system, a boy being raised by two dads.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is 41 year old married gay man. He lives in Pittsburgh with his husband and two sons. Sean enjoys Law & Order reruns, Christmas movies in October, and Facebook stalking. He likes donuts and beer. Sometimes he goes to the gym.  He is the author of the blog seansbiggayblog where he attempt to chronicle his experiences as a parent.  The contents of his blog (and life) are 75% truth, 18% satire, 6% hyperbole and 1% drama. He is also the author of Which One of You is the Mother?

in defense of my family

I have a photo on my desk of my children. They are standing in front of a paint splattered door and in the photo my oldest son is looking out from behind his glasses appearing effortlessly handsome as he towers over his much shorter brother, my youngest son, who looks ready to cause trouble as soon as my husband finishes taking the photo. My husband and my two sons. Together these three are everything. My life. My purpose. My reason.

I cannot imagine a world without them. I cannot conceive of a world where the four of us were not brought together for some greater purpose, where we did not find one another because we were always meant to be a family, and yet, how different our lives could be in another time and place because as inconceivable as it is for me to imagine a world without them, I am keenly aware that such a world exists in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans.

These people believe that I should not be afforded the same rights and privileges of “normal” people, that I should not be married, that I should most definitely not have children. They hide behind their religion, using it and their perverted notions of God to justify their bigotry. And when their base religious manipulations fail them, they turn to the political arena in the hopes of legislating their morality on the masses.

Over the past few years as marriage equality became the law of the land and as all fifty states finally recognized the rights of same-sex couples to adopt, it seemed that such nonsense had gone the way of the dodo. But in 2016 with the threat of a Donald Trump/Mike Pence administration looming over our country, the rights and privileges of gay Americans and the very existence of non-traditional families are at stake.

The RNC platform, under the auspices of Trump and the notoriously anti-gay Pence, include these decidedly anti-LGBT nuggets:

  1. We believe that “marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Traditional marriage and family, based on marriage between one man and one woman, is the foundation for a free society.”
  2. We pledge to “support adoption organizations that refuse to serve gay couples” with the belief that “children raised in a traditional two-parent household tend to be physically and emotionally healthier, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, engage in crime, or become pregnant outside of marriage.”
  3. We support (the widely discredited practice of) conversion therapy, guaranteeing “the right of parents to determine the proper treatment or therapy for their minor (gay) children.”

This is the platform for a major political party in the year 2016 and it scares the hell out of me because as impossible as it seems that we as a country would willingly go backward, that we would allow marriages to be dissolved, that we would allow children to be taken away from loving homes, that we would operate under the absurd notion that one could pray the gay away, the fact is an uninformed, undereducated, and angry electorate makes this not just possible, but probable.

The reality is that on November 8 people will vote for this hateful nonsense because either a) they support it or b) because they are more concerned with tax breaks and welfare reform and defense spending than the basic rights of their friends and family.

Look, I get it, people can have fundamental disagreements about government, but the right of my family to exist is not a fundamental disagreement. If you cannot bring yourself to cross party lines and vote for another candidate then you need to right now at this very moment demand more from your party and its leaders. You need to stand up and say, “I will not accept this. I will not tolerate this. This is not what I believe. This is not who I am.”


Sean Michael O’Donnell is 41 year old married gay man. He lives in Pittsburgh with his husband and two sons. Sean enjoys Law & Order reruns, Christmas movies in October, and Facebook stalking. He likes donuts and beer. Sometimes he goes to the gym.  He is the author of the blog seansbiggayblog where he attempt to chronicle his experiences as a parent.  The contents of his blog (and life) are 75% truth, 18% satire, 6% hyperbole and 1% drama. He is also the author of Which One of You is the Mother?

 

(remembering) the day i met my son

He was waiting for us at the door. I imagine he had been there for days, from the moment his foster parents told him we were coming. With his perfectly parted hair and his blue shirt buttoned to the very top button, he had a smile so big it threatened to swallow the whole of the earth. I suspected his bags were already packed, tucked discreetly behind the door, in anticipation of our arrival. He would have come home with us in that moment had we let him. He would have gone anywhere with us in that moment. Us, the parents he had been waiting a lifetime to meet.

It had been six weeks since the decision. Some faceless committee on the other side of the country deciding our future and creating our family. From the start all we had been given was a basic narrative and a photo. It’s the photo that gets you. It’s the photo that dares you to imagine a lifetime of birthdays and Christmases and bedtime hugs. It’s the photo that teases you with a tomorrow that may never happen.

That photo. It invades your dreams. It speaks to you. It sometimes calls you Dad.

I had that photo, his photo, on my computer, but I tried not to look at it, afraid that I would go even further down the rabbit hole. Without the photo he was just a collection of words; a story with a beginning, middle and a distant end. Without the photo, I could close the book, put it back on the shelf. Without the photo he was not real.

Except he was real and I had already imagined all of the birthdays and the Christmases and the lifetime of hugs. I heard his voice call me Dad. I pictured a future with him, my son — this boy I’d never met. And that was dangerous. Because the faceless committee on the other side of the country deciding our future might have hated us. They could have chosen another family, a better match.

Of course, that wasn’t the case. They chose us.

We traveled backward through four time zones, arriving in Oregon shortly after we had left Pittsburgh. It was a few miles from the hotel to his foster home and as we drove I remember looking over at my husband and thinking, This is the last time it will be just the two of us. In a few minutes, for the rest of our lives, it would now be the three of us (at least).

I closed the car door and rounded the corner to the house. Everything changed.

In the movies and in books when writers employ that laziest of clichés love at first sight, I always roll my eyes and silently chastise the author for condescending to his audience with weak plot devices. “Show, don’t tell!” I want to scream as I throw the book across the room. “This isn’t real life!” I say as I shake my fists in protest at the movie screen.

People do not fall in love at first sight. Except for parents. Parents fall in love at first sight. From the moment they see their child they are in love. And it does not matter if they are seeing a newborn or a seven year old, that love is immediate and unconditional and eternal.

The moment I saw my son standing at that door — with his perfectly parted hair and his blue shirt buttoned to the very top button and his smile so big it threatened to swallow the whole of the earth — I was in love. We may have lived in two different worlds for the first seven years of his life, but he was my son as sure as if I had made him. Looking at him I realized that every moment in my life before this moment had been nothing more than an audition.

Curtain up.

He opened the door, offering his hand to me in greeting. It had been a rehearsed bit meant to show respect, but also a subtle wink from his foster parents to let me know that they had done their job, that he had manners. He shook with his left hand. I shook with my right hand. It was very awkward, less of a hand shake and more of a hand embrace. Just another reason to love him.

He had decided that I would be called Dad and Todd would be Papa. “I’m Christopher,” he said. 

My son, Christopher. And me, his Dad. Was I really someone’s Dad?

We made our way to the living room and sat on the couch, my husband on the left and me on the right with our son between us as if he had always been there. A camera appeared, immortalizing our first moments as a family. The picture captures two smiling grown men, wide-eyed and deliriously happy, and a young boy, home at last. The photo sits in my son’s room. Sometimes I find myself staring at that photo and suddenly I am inside the picture, living a memory as if today were yesterday and yesterday were now.

1stphoto

I hear my son reading to us. I can’t remember the name of the book, just the sound of his voice. The voice I first imagined before there was a voice, when all I had was a photo and a collection of words. Christopher, Chris, sits across from me, his face buried in his book as he reads with tentative confidence. I close my eyes and his voice takes me out of the room, out of the house, past the hotel, past tomorrow, fast forwarding me through a life that has yet to happen. We are on the plane, back in Pittsburgh, at our home. He is eight, nine, eighteen, twenty-seven years old. There are birthdays and Christmases and a lifetime of hugs. No longer a child, now a man. From the beginning of our story to the end of mine. He reads and I see it all.

In July of 2013, my husband and I traveled to Oregon to meet our son for the first time. It was the beginning of a life-changing adventure. Five days later when we boarded a plane back to Pittsburgh with our soon-to-be-adopted then-seven year old son in tow, we were a family. Sometimes everything just falls into place. Sometimes love at first sight transcends cliché. Sometimes only a stale platitude will do: it was meant to be.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is 41 year old married gay man. He lives in Pittsburgh with his husband and two sons. Sean enjoys Law & Order reruns, Christmas movies in October, and Facebook stalking. He likes donuts and beer. Sometimes he goes to the gym.  He is the author of the blog seansbiggayblog where he attempt to chronicle his experiences as a parent.  The contents of his blog (and life) are 75% truth, 18% satire, 6% hyperbole and 1% drama. He is also the author of Which One of You is the Mother?

 

pride

I never understood Pride. Each year the calendar would flip from May to June and suddenly we gays were plunged head first into a month long bacchanalian celebration of all things not heterosexual. For thirty days and thirty nights we were stuck in an endless loop of ABBA songs and drag queens singing ABBA songs and threeways set to drag queens singing ABBA songs.

I was embarrassed by Pride, by its parades and rainbows, by its ostentatious façade, by its forced compliance. Oh sure, I liked Cher and Judy and Barbra and Muriel’s Wedding and I like any parade that includes a fireman throwing candy at me, but Pride just wasn’t for me. I was content being a lowercase gay…I didn’t need to be an all caps lock GAY.

If asked to describe myself I would have no trouble coming up with a very long, but not-always flattering, list of words, and while gay would undoubtedly be on that list of words, ultimately it would be just a word and not the word. It wasn’t that I was running from the word I just didn’t want to be defined by it.

I was living in New York City in 2004 when one morning after emerging from the subway I found myself smack dab in the middle of the Pride Parade. I was horrified. A few years later I attended a Melissa Etheridge concert during Pride Week in Pittsburgh and all I could think the whole evening was, “Why does everyone have to be so gay?”

It’s not that I had a problem with how other people were choosing to express themselves – if anything, in the face of my insecurity, I admired their honesty – I just needed for everyone to take a step back and bring it down a notch because lowercase me was feeling lost in this increasingly all CAPS LOCK world.

And yes, I understood that it wasn’t the job of other people who were confident and secure in their identities to make me feel confident and secure, but if I could live my big gay life quietly then why couldn’t the rest of them? Why did they need parades and rainbows and threeways and I mean, c’mon, an entire month of anything seems excessive and also wasn’t ABBA for everyone?

I don’t say this often, but I was wrong. We need parades and, more importantly, we need everything that those parades represent. We need every rainbow flag that says, “We are in this together.” And one month isn’t long enough because we should celebrate happiness and love every day. But most of all we need to remember that while ABBA may be for everyone, no one will ever appreciate their music like the gays.

I think I missed out on a lot by not embracing Pride. I see that now that I have kids because in many ways I would not have my kids had it not been for the gay men and women who came before me. They stood up and they marched and they celebrated and they were caps lock GAY so that every lowercase gay could one day be happy and fall in love and get married and live, every day, the life I take for granted.

the hand that rocks the cradle

I never wanted to be that parent. I was determined to allow my children to fight their own battles. I promised myself that no matter how much I wanted to intervene I would keep to the sides because so much of growing up is about finding your voice and learning how to use it.

The day my youngest son came home from school in tears because a boy on the bus had been mean to him I explained (after a reassuring hug) that, well, people are mean and you can choose to either return that meanness or ignore it and move on.  A few weeks later when my oldest son reported that a classmate had called his glasses ugly, I asked my ten year old if he actually cared what this boy thought of his glasses and when he admitted that he did not I said, “So what’s the problem?”

But then shortly after Christmas a classmate called my son gay and suddenly it became less about kids being mean and more about people being hateful and in that moment everything I thought I believed went out the window and my ice-cold-keep-to-the-sides resolve began to crumble and I became that parent.

I hated that I was being put in the position of being angry or offended because some little jerk had called my son gay as if being called gay or the act of being gay were something I (or my son) should be offended by…but then it was not the word itself that offended me, but the ugliness and the history of the ugliness behind the word that offended me.

My rage further increased after learning the teacher had dismissed the name calling incident with a shrug. Look, we all know what that kid meant when he called my son gay and I am confident that had he used a racial or ethnic slur or a term of misogynistic endearment or any other form of hate speech that his actions would not have been dismissed with a simple shrug.

Realizing that I had no choice but to intervene, I sat down at the computer (with a drink…to calm my nerves) and composed a thoughtful email to the school principal. I was calm and respectful and in no way was my tone accusatory, which is very unlike me by the way. I informed the principal about what had happened and closed with “I do not expect the boy or the teacher to be reprimanded nor do I expect that my son or our family should be treated any differently than a traditional family, but I do believe everyone from staff to students could use a lesson in tolerance and acceptance.”

The principal immediately apologized and assured me that the school took my concerns very seriously. In addition, she promised to “address the importance of tolerance with her staff.”

Okay then. I was satisfied.

A few weeks later the same boy made fun of my son for having two dads, bringing my son to tears. Again, I contacted the school to voice my concerns and again I was assured that the school took my concerns very seriously.

Okay then. I was skeptical, but satisfied…

…until the following week when the same boy pushed my son to the ground in gym class and my son – in the face of a school and administration who had done nothing up to this point to support him – stood up for himself (and his family) and pushed the boy back. When the principal called to tell me that my son had been suspended, for defending himself, I lost it.

There is movie from the early 90s called The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.  It stars Rebecca De Mornay as a homicidal nanny. There’s a reason she’s homicidal but it’s rather convoluted so just watch it on Netflix because it’s a good movie and also because you can see a pre-A-list Julianne Moore get murdered by a greenhouse. Anyway, in the movie one of Rebecca’s young charges is bullied by a classmate and so, like the good homicidal nanny that she is, Rebecca walks up to the kid and does this: The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

Now, when anyone is mean or unkind to one of my kids I immediately imagine that I am Rebecca De Mornay in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. I walk up to the pint-sized offender in my tight little pencil skit with my Banana Republic sweater slung over my shoulders and I grab the little shit by the wrist and I say “I’m gonna rip your fucking head off.” This momentary flight of fancy usually calms me and I’m able to move on with the rest of my day.

Usually.

But not this time.

This time I threatened to (metaphorically) rip the fucking heads off everyone….the school, the administration, the kid who pushed my son, the parents of the kid who pushed my son.

I went DEFCON 1.

It was perhaps not my finest moment…except it was. My kid needed me and I was there for him. I had his back. The reality is someone has to stand up for kids until our kids learn to stand up for themselves.

So for now I am that parent and, as it turns out, I will rip your fucking head off.

 

 

it’s okay, he has two dads

I rarely encounter prejudice. I’m not naïve – I know it exists. It leads the nightly news and it clogs my social media feeds. It seems everyone is getting it but me.

Perhaps I am too caught up in my own little world to notice the ugliness around me. As a gay man and as the father of two adopted children (one who is bi-racial) you would think prejudice would be everywhere – in line at the grocery store, peeking out the windows of the houses on my street, lurking in the shadows at my children’s school.

But if it’s there, I’m not seeing it.

I suspect my inability (or unwillingness) to see it has less to do with progress and more to do with politeness. We no longer announce our prejudices with burning crosses and limp-wristed gestures. It is considered passé in these early days of the 21st century to be a card-carrying bigot. We are more subversive in our bias.

We have no problem with African Americans…as long as they don’t cause trouble. We champion women in positions of power…as long as they don’t act like a bitch. We applaud when a non-traditional family adopts a child…as long as we can pity the poor child behind closed doors.

I recently read an article titled He Doesn’t Have a Mom. It was written by some well-meaning mother of three who, in short, believes a child needs to have a mother in order to be happy. In the story the authoress details an encounter she had with a young boy in her son’s class. The boy is depicted as being emotionally needy, immediately clinging to the writer and telling her, this stranger, that he “loves her” and that she is his “best friend”.

The author learns (from another well-meaning parent) that the child does not have a mother and suddenly in a flash of privileged arrogance it all makes sense. Never mind that the author notes the child is being raised by his grandparents, two people whose actions are the very definition of parenting. Never mind that this boy has a mother, his grandmother. Never mind that 90% of this woman’s story is total fabricated bullshit.

Never mind any of this because it is too late – she has gone full Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side.

She hugs the child. She cries for the child. Her heart breaks for the child. As she reaches up for her Academy Award, she vows to pray for the child. She promises to connect with him in the years to come and (threatens?) to bring him into her home so that he may experience “family time”.

She concludes her tale by saying that the boy does have a father – no, not his grandfather, but his capital letter “F” Father – God.  He “who has promised to take the place of parents for those who have been abandoned”. She hopes the boy will come to God and be redeemed because, you know, as a motherless orphan he must be godless.

Look, I’m not even going to touch the religious angle here because the author’s faith is between her and her capital letter “F” Father and if HE rewards condescension and arrogance then the author has bought herself some prime real estate in the afterlife. However, as the parent of two kids who don’t have a mother and on behalf of all the nontraditional families in the world let me just say this to the author: Blow it out your ass.

A mother is a wonderful thing, but a mother is not a parent. To be clear, a mother is defined as a woman in relation to a child to whom she has given birth. By this definition she is a womb, an incubator. She has a job for nine months and then after nine months she is either unemployed or she accepts a promotion and becomes something more, a parent.

And parents are not defined by gender or convention. Parents are not a check mark made inside a box labeled Mother or a signature above a line designated Father. 

My husband and I are more than mother or father, we are parents.

We raise and nurture our children.  They are happy. They are loved. Their lack of convention does not require your pity anymore than their non-traditional circumstance cries out for your self-serving prayers.

They are whole. Even without a mother.

I sometimes encounter prejudice.

I may have to look for it, but it exists.


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

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.

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.