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.

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label makers

The new math teacher called to introduce himself. Chris’s class had been without a permanent math teacher since the second week of school when Miss Perky, a first time teacher who cited Lassie as her favorite movie, failed to show up for work…much to the surprise of everyone at the school, most notably the administration.

But all of that was behind us now and after a revolving door of well-meaning substitutes the school had hired a new teacher, a veteran of the New York City schools who, according to the letter of introduction he had sent home, would “not tolerate any disrespect”.

I was at the library reading with Elijah when he called, but seeing the school’s phone number on my caller ID I decided to answer.

“Hi. This is Mr. Smith. I’m Chris’s new math teacher. Is Chris’s Mom or Dad there?”

“This is Chris’s Dad,” I said. I hesitated a moment and then continued, “Actually Chris has two dads. There is no mother.”

A brief pause followed and then, “Oh. Two Dads. Okay. That’s cool, I’m from New York.”

I’m from New York is code for I’ve seen it all.

“Actually Park Slope. It’s in Brooklyn, so…”

It was the most ridiculous response and I immediately liked him for saying it. We chatted for a few more minutes and then I went back to reading to Elijah.

Later when I would play back the conversation in my mind I became fixated on that moment of hesitation right before I had said, “Actually Chris has two dads.” Why had I hesitated? It was a matter of fact that my son had two fathers and in that moment when I corrected the teacher I was doing it, not to make a statement, but simply to inform.

Yet still I hesitated as if I had felt that I shouldn’t say it.

When I read clickbait headlines on Huffington Post like My Son’s School Discriminated Against Him Because He Has Two Dads or Everybody in the World Is Out to Get Me Because I’m a Black Christian Homosexual Transgendered Woman I immediately think, “Or maybe you’re just an asshole and it has nothing to do with your race, religion, sexuality or gender identity.”

We are so quick to assume that people are discriminating against us based on what we are rather than who we are and I suppose because of that I have become hyper vigilant. If someone is going to dislike me I want it to be based on the person I am and not the labels that have been attached to me.

And I realize that sounds hypocritical coming from a guy who calls his blog seansbiggayblog and then wrote a book called Which One of You is the Mother? The Absolutely Positively True Adoption Story of Two Gay Dadsbut then I am an enigma wrapped in cheese.

I hesitated because in that moment I wanted to present a fact to the teacher – my son has two dads – but at the same time I did not want to label myself or make our family dynamic an issue because it’s not an issue.

The point of this blog and my book is that we are no different than any other family.

Now I’m not some Pollyanna. I understand that in the real world gays with kids is an issue for a shrinking percentage of small-minded bigots and as I’ve unfortunately discovered a growing number of paranoid gay parents, but for me and my husband and our two kids it’s a non-starter.

We are who we are and if you don’t like us we hope it’s because we’re assholes and not because we’re gay or because our kids have two dads. Although honestly, whatever the reason we don’t much care.

All we ask is the next time you call our house, please don’t ask for the mother and not because it’s a big deal but because we told you our sons have two dads and now you know.

the coulda been kid

The adoption agency called and asked if we would be interested in fostering a four year old. This would be an immediate placement, meaning the child could be living with us by the end of the day. However, as the caseworker explained, this placement would not be permanent as they were looking for a long-term foster family and not an adoptive family. The end goal of this placement was to be reunification with the child’s birth parents.

We would be temporary.

As much as I would love to give a home to every child in the foster system, the fact is I can’t do it. I tell myself (and others) that the reason we don’t foster is because it wouldn’t be fair to Chris and Elijah. This is your new brother, but don’t get too attached because he’ll be moving out in 4 to 6 months. But the real reason we don’t foster is because I can’t handle it. I’m not strong enough. I fall in love at first sight. I become too attached. I can’t say goodbye.

The truth is even if I knew from the beginning that a placement was to be temporary when the time came for that child to leave it would destroy me. I can’t be temporary. I’m just not wired that way. I’m grateful to those people who are able to be placeholders, people like Chris’s foster parents who have selflessly given home and heart to dozens of children in need.

For the past two decades these heroes have taken in children from the most unimaginable situations. One child brought in to their care had been so badly neglected that she suffered brain damage when her birth parents attempted to starve her to death. My son’s former foster parents literally nursed this child from the brink of death, loving her for over a year before saying goodbye when she was adopted by her forever family.

I wish I possessed their courage and strength. Because that particular brand of courage and strength is in demand.

Today in the United States of America there are more than 400,000 children in foster care.

400,000 children in need of a home.

For many of these kids the need for a home is (at least for the moment) temporary, but for more than 100,000 of these children the need for a home is a lifelong commitment.

And here’s the thing: those numbers never go down. It seems as soon as one child is placed with a family another child is brought into the system to take his place. The need is never-ending.

I think about all those kids who came before Chris and Elijah and all the children that will come after them. I think about the hundreds of profiles that have come across my desk. I think about all the photos and stories. I think about that four year old.

I remember all the times I was convinced that a child would be a perfect match only to never hear from the caseworker. I remember all the times my heart broke reading page after page of neglect and abuse. I remember all the times I had to say no.

You can’t save them all, I tell myself.

Except it’s not about saving. These kids do not need to be saved. These kids need to be a given a chance.

Like all of us, they just need to be loved.


November is National Adoption Month. Learn more about adoption and find out more about local adoption.

please don’t eat the daisies

When someone has a baby it is customary for their friends and family to throw them a baby shower. These baby showers are extravagant affairs complete with whimsical decorations, silly games, overpriced gifts and cake. Lots of cake. No one has ever thrown us a baby shower.

That’s not the point of this blog post. I’m just putting that out there because I have two kids and also I like cake.

The point of this blog post is that we have decided to adopt again. It turns out two is not enough. My guess is a year from now we will be saying that three is not enough. I should probably rephrase that because Chris and Elijah are absolutely enough. They are more than we could have hoped for or dreamed of; they are as perfect for us as we are for them and if we never had another child we would still be complete.

So when I say that two is not enough what I mean to say is why should we stop at two or three or even five for that matter, especially when there are tens of thousands of children in need of a forever home. And while not every one of those kids may be a suitable match to our family dynamic, I have no doubt at least one or two or twenty-seven of those tens of thousands are a match and they are out there right now waiting for us to find them.

Todd calls it a calling. You know, like when someone is called to serve God or called to work in the Peace Corps or called to eat obscene amounts of donuts twice a week. It is odd to compare serving God to adopting children, but as soon as he said it I understood exactly what he meant.

Maybe it’s because I just turned forty and the closer I get to death the more philosophical I become, but I believe all roads have led me to Chris and Elijah. Everything that came before now, even the really shitty stuff, had to happen so I could be their Dad. They were my calling.

I am exactly where I am meant to be.

We were talking with our caseworker last week and I said how lucky we were to have been matched with two well-adjusted and happy boys. She said that while it’s true we did have two fairly smooth adoptions we should not underestimate our contribution and that a big reason why the boys were so happy and well-adjusted was because of what we brought to the table.

I’m normally embarrassed by such praise, immediately defaulting to false modesty, but not this time because I knew what she was saying to be true. We are really good at this.

I know we cannot adopt every kid out there, nor should we, but if we have room in our hearts and the ability to change even one more life, then we should do it. We have to do it.

After all, it’s our calling.


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.

eyes wide shut

Chris could not find his belt. I knew where it was. I also knew that if he would just open his eyes and look he would see that his belt was exactly where he had left it twelve hours earlier, slung over the back of his desk chair underneath the very clothes he had just put on five minutes prior to asking, “Where’s my belt?” Still I indulged his Helen Keller routine and said, “It’s exactly where you left it.”

“What do you mean?” he called from the stairs.

“It’s exactly where you left it,” I repeated, putting a period after each emphasized word.

Okay, I know, yes, I could have just said, “It’s on the desk chair,” and that would have been the end of it. Lights down. And yes, if I had simply wanted to make a point I could have satisfied the passive-aggressive middle-aged woman inside me and added “underneath the clothes you just put on five minutes prior to asking me, “Where’s my belt?”

Of course I didn’t do that. For some reason I had decided to draw a line in the sand and, even though I knew where this was headed, “It’s exactly where you left it” was all he was going to get from me.

Chris came down the stairs a few minutes later. Without the belt. He announced that he would not be wearing the belt because he could not find it.

I snapped. I took him (gently, but firmly) by the arm, marched him up the stairs, pointed to the chair where the belt was hanging and said, my voice dripping with periods and italics, “In. Plain. Sight. The belt is in plain sight. It’s exactly where you – not me, YOU – left it twelve hours ago. I mean, c’mon, you’re too old for this crap.”

It was perhaps not my finest hour, but then I’ve had worse.

Chris put on the belt and then, looking me directly in the eyes, he said, “I know you’re new at being a parent, but it’s just a belt.”

Some people might hear this and think my son was talking back to me or being disrespectful, but he was not doing either of those things. He was being honest and if I was being honest I would admit that he had a point…to a point.

It was just a belt, but – as I later tried to explain to him – it was also more than a belt.

Do you ever look at your kids and wonder how it is they will ever be prepared to survive in the world without you? I do. And it’s in those moments that a belt becomes more than a belt because if I can’t teach my kid to open his eyes and see the belt that is right in front of him then how will he ever be ready to drive a car or have a job or manage a bank account or raise his own children?

Sometimes Chris will ask me what a parent does and in reply I recite to him a long list of responsibilities. The list changes, but the one constant is always a parent gets their child ready to be an adult. Because after making my kids feel safe and loved and happy all I really want is for them to be ready for the day when I’m no longer around to find the belt.

It’s not the most pleasant of thoughts, but then much of parenting is about being unpleasant.

So for now I will concede my son’s point that it was just a belt and if I did overreact it was only because one day it will be more than just a belt and when that day comes he needs to be ready for it.

Having said that, the next time he asks where his belt is I may just tell him, “It’s on the desk chair.”


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

10 Things I Hate Being Asked as a Gay Adoptive Parent

This post was originally published by America Adopts on September 2, 2015.


Most people come to parenthood the old fashioned way. Either they light a few candles and say, “Let’s make a baby” or they have one too many drinks and forget the condom.

I am one half of a gay couple which means no matter how hard we try or how many drinks we have we will never be able to make a baby, at least not in the conventional sense.

This does not make us unique; many people find themselves unable to have children the “traditional” way. For some people this means using a surrogate or choosing IVF.

For us it meant adoption.

Adoption was always a first choice and never a last resort. We are proud of our decision to adopt.

Adoption made our family. We sing its praises wide and far, mostly in the hopes of encouraging others to adopt but also to educate people so they stop asking us stupid questions.

10. You mean gay people are allowed to adopt?

Yes, we can even get married now. All snarkiness aside, I’m willing to overlook this question because the truth is that I too was surprised we could adopt.

I thought our only option as two men would be to foster because no government entity was going to allow two gay guys to legally adopt a child.

Fortunately I was wrong and not only were we allowed to adopt a child, we were encouraged to do so by our agency. We now have two children and both of our names appear on their re-issued birth certificates.

9. Did you decide to adopt because of that gay couple on Modern Family?

The funny thing is we’re real people living in the real world so we don’t actually make life-changing decisions because of something we saw on TV.

My husband and I have been together for more than 18 years. We talked about starting a family very early in our relationship – approximately a year after Ellen (the TV character) came out and two years before Will & Grace premiered.

8. What country is your child from originally?

The United States of America. You may have heard of it since you live there. We get asked this question A LOT.

People seem genuinely shocked to learn that we adopted domestically, almost as shocked as when we inform them that there are more than 100,000 kids right in their own backyard in need of a forever home.

7. Couldn’t you get a baby and/or afford a surrogate?

The truth is we could not afford a surrogate. Nor could we afford to go through a private adoption in the hopes of acquiring an infant.

We are hopelessly lower middle class. Not that our limited financial resources played a role in our decision to adopt. The truth is not everyone wants a baby and not everyone requires a genetic connection to their child.

We certainly did not. My husband and I were more than happy to skip the dirty diaper/helpless stage and jump right into the horrible adolescent/helpless stage. And it cannot be said enough, there are children of all ages who need a home.

6. He looks just like you.

This is more of an observation than a question, but we hear it frequently. I’ve decided that people say it because, well, that’s what you’re supposed to say when a parent presents you with a new kid.

He looks just like you. The thing is my tall, skinny, long-limbed, Native American son looks nothing like my short-waisted, stout, full-faced, pasty white Irish ass. Still, I appreciate the sentiment.

5. Aren’t you afraid your kids will be bullied because they have two dads?

All children are bullied. Even the kids with a mom and a dad. I was the product of a heterosexual marriage and still I was bullied from the age of 7 to 18.

Of course rather than allowing my bullies to define me, I used the experience to make me a stronger person. If (when) my children are bullied I hope they will follow my lead and move beyond the tit-for-tat of playground politics.

Of course who’s to say my kid won’t be the bully?

4. Do you think/hope your kid is gay?

I assume people ask this question because as heterosexuals they think/hope/assume their child is straight. My kids are 5 and 9, and imaging them in some pre-pubescent courtship with anyone of either sex is just creepy.

The fact is their sexuality was determined long before my husband and I came into the picture. I don’t care what they are – straight, gay, bi, trans – as long as they are happy.

3. Will you be disappointed if your kid is heterosexual?

I get it…if your kid were gay you’d be disappointed. Get over it.

2. Is it in the best interest of a child to be exposed to your lifestyle?

You’re right. It’s unconscionable to expose a child to the horrors of a stable, loving two-parent home.

1. Which one of you is the Mother?

Funny you should ask. I wrote a book based on that very question. The book is called Which One of You is the Mother? To best answer this stupidest of all questions, I’ll refer you to a passage in the book (and then encourage you to buy the book on Amazon).

“The first time someone asked me that question I laughed, thinking it was a joke. Which one of you is the mother? Well, if we’re talking in strict biological terms then the answer is neither of us because we’re both dudes which means we have guy parts in our downstairs.

Which one of you is the mother? Well, if we’re not talking in strict biological terms then we must be relying on gender stereotypes; therefore, as the more emotional of the two, I suppose that I fit the maternal role.

But then in terms of household duties it’s a 50/50 split: I clean, but my husband does the laundry, and we both do the cooking. My husband is better at dressing cuts and bruises, whereas I just look better in a dress.

And while he delivers award-winning hugs, I am just plain award-winning in my impersonation of Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford screaming, ‘Tina, bring me the axe!’

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?”‘


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


making babies the new old fashioned way

Most people become parents the old fashioned way. They either say, “Let’s have a baby,” and then engage in meaningful heterosexual intercoursing, or they say, “Let’s have a drink,” and then three hours later forget to use a condom. And while both roads may lead to a baby, the second option makes for a better romantic comedy. We tried going the traditional intercourse route for years but it turns out you can’t make omelets without eggs. You also can’t make a baby with two penises because contrary to what your seventh grade health teacher told you in sex ed, you cannot get pregnant in the fanny.

Since boy + boy ≠ baby we turned to adoption. We had our reservations. Our first thought was, “Are gay people even allowed to adopt?” To our surprise not only were the gays permitted to adopt, they were encouraged to do so. There are nearly a half million children in the foster system and with most straights choosing to have babies through intercoursing, supply exceeds demand. Initially our caseworker seemed to only pass along profiles for the harder to place children. “He’s only started a few fires. I’d hardly call that a pattern.” We assured her that while we might be open-minded we didn’t think our dogs would enjoy living with someone who tortured animals even if “it was just that one time.” We persevered and eventually we hit the jackpot. Twice.

Adoption is a funny thing. You wait and you wait and you wait and then suddenly you have two kids and you’re driving a minivan. All you know is now and your memories are something that happened in a dream. I could not even begin to list all the ways being a father has changed my life because the person I am after my children is in no way related to the person I was before them.

Yesterday we met with our attorney to discuss the final steps in Elijah’s adoption. Today she will file the last round of paperwork and in a few short weeks we will go to court. When that day finally comes some judge will bang his gavel and poof! we will be a family. Except of course we already are a family. We may not have biologically created our boys, but they were born to be our sons just as we were born to be their fathers. And while the bang of that gavel will mean many things, it won’t change the most important thing.

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.

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.

the last days of the first months

Each day for the past four months my morning routine has been the same: drop off my oldest son at his bus stop, drop off my husband at his office, and then before going into work take my youngest son to the coffee shop around the corner and pass the time until his pre-school opened its doors. Going to the coffee shop, it was our ritual from almost the first day he had been placed with us. Having come from a very small town in rural West Virginia, going to a coffee shop seemed a great adventure to our newest addition and he loved it. Every morning he would stroll about the coffeehouse as if he owned it, putting on a show for the regulars who only encouraged him with their laughs and smiles. The barista was a big fan too, overlooking the contraband snacks we had brought from home to eat with our coffee and water.

After choosing a seat (always by the window!) we would settle in with our drinks and snacks, pausing from our respective distractions to make small talk and share smiles. I worked my way through the pages of the Call the Midwife trilogy while he polished off two seasons of SpongeBob on my phone.  The minutes ticked by slowly during those first few weeks as we both struggled to settle into this new normal, but in those final days it seemed as if no sooner had we sat down then it was time to part ways.

Today was our last morning at the coffeehouse. Summer vacation starts on Monday. As we walked from the car we played our last game of Booby-Trap Sidewalk. Inside he performed his last show for the coffeehouse patrons. We enjoyed our snacks and drinks as if it were any other morning. I read my book and he watched his show, both of us acting as if Monday would be no different. He looked at me and smiled. I froze the moment.

I’m not nostalgic, except now I am.

My son is just five years old and already he is growing up.

I try to freeze every moment before the present fades into the past.

I think back to those early days with my oldest son and I struggle to remember that first summer with him. Fresh off the plane from Oregon and we were strangers. We spent every moment of those three months together — we had our own routines, our own rituals — every day was a great adventure. We made small talk and shared smiles. I froze moments, but two years later, it seems not enough.

When you adopt they make you read books and take classes on being a parent, but for all their information what the books and classes fail to tell you is that children grow up and moments slip away. One day the seven year old turns nine and the next day the five year old is graduating high school. Life goes on.