one day at a time

Every adoption is different. Every child is different. There have been moments during every one of our adoptions where I thought, “I can’t do this. It’s too hard.” With our first child I was scared. I had never been a parent before so it was less I can’t do this. It’s too hard. and more I’m afraid to do this. What if I fail? After three weeks at home with kid number two, during a period where we were trying to get him enrolled into school, I nearly threw in the towel after being forced to watch Frozen for the 693rd time. And I never thought I’d break through to my third son until the day I finally did.

It turned out I was half right: being a parent was hard, but I could do it.

A week ago my husband and I welcomed our fourth child into the family. It’s been a tough week. I tell myself: Every adoption is different. Every child is different. But Number Four (as I call her) is different on steroids. A few days in and already I find myself retreating to I can’t do this. It’s too hard.

If kids came with instructions (ha!) then the how-to manual for my first child would have read: just add water. The guide for my second kid would have told us to add water and sunlight. The instructions for kid number three would have included the bit about water and sunlight, and then advised us to “be really patient for about eight months.”

But Number Four is like having picked out the most complicated piece of furniture at IKEA only to discover the directions have been accidentally shredded and then randomly taped back together and also half the parts are missing.

Before I go any further I want to be clear—I am not complaining. I am lucky. I am luckier than any one person has the right to be. I have four wonderful, unique, beautiful, perfect children. This is not about them. This is about me.

I’m afraid to do this. What if I fail?

When you adopt a child you don’t just adopt the child, you also adopt their history and some histories are more complicated than others. No kid ever ended up in the foster system because life with their birth parents was a Norman Rockwell painting. Some kids experience unimaginable traumas. I’ve read some dark case files that make me question my faith in humanity more than any Trump presidency ever could.

I marvel at my three sons, at their resilience, at their ability to not be defined by their past. They found strength in their stories. I tell myself that the day will come when Number Four climbs out from her past and proves herself stronger than any one of us. She will tower above us all, having finally learned to take power from pain.

Of course I know, like my other three children, she cannot do this alone. She will need help and support and love. She will need someone who can unscramble the directions and find the missing parts. But more than anything she will need a parent who isn’t afraid to fail, possibly a lot and probably quite often.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is 43 year old married gay man. He lives in Pittsburgh with his husband, three sons, and daughter. 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 best-selling book Which One of You is the Mother?

Advertisements

fostering

Foster parents are a mixed bag. Many foster parents are some of the finest people you will ever meet, called to serve like a minister to God. Others are of a more basic variety, called to collect a monthly check from the state. My oldest son was blessed with the gold standard of foster parents. They gave him food and shelter and love and the hope that he would one day have a tomorrow better than today. My youngest son had a foster parent more tin than gold. Despite her many shortcomings, I admired her for doing the work that so many others would not.

I have great respect for foster parents. They do the heavy lifting. Foster parents rescue our children at a time when they are in desperate need of saving. They attach without becoming attached. They give love often without ever receiving it in return. They get the worst but rarely see the best. They hold a place and then they say goodbye.

I could never do that.

Or so I thought.

Eight days ago my husband and I became foster parents. Our agency called us with a child in need of an emergency placement. There were few details available. We discussed it. We considered all the many reasons why we should say “no” and then two hours later we found ourselves standing at the door welcoming a scared twelve year old into our home.

The specifics about this child and the story of our journey together will be a story for another time. We are not permitted to name the child or tell the child’s story or post the child’s photo. For now we have been tasked with doing the heavy lifting, with aiding in the rescue, with giving love.

For now we are holding a place.

And I’m okay with that…or so I tell myself even though it’s not true. What is true is that it took me all of fifteen minutes to attach. I won’t tell you how long it took me to love the kid, lest I embarrass myself, but suffice it to say if there is a goodbye it won’t be easy.

So we wait and we hold a place and we become attached and we fall in love and we see where all this takes us. We hope for the best and we prepare for the worst and we remind ourselves that no matter what we may be feeling this isn’t about us. This is about a kid who needed a home.


*This photo of Hillary Clinton has nothing to do with the story, but since I cannot show photos of the child I thought I’d use this opportunity to remind everyone to vote for Hillary Clinton on November 8 because #imwithher.

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.