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.

(gay) PROUD to be a (gay) DAD

June is a great month to be a Dad. We celebrate Father’s Day the third Sunday of every June. June is also a great month to be gay. We celebrate Gay Pride all the June long. If you are a gay dad like me, then the gay daddy* party don’t stop for thirty days and thirty nights.

But what exactly is at the heart of these two calendar-mates? According to Wikipedia, Father’s Day is a celebration honoring fathers while recognizing fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. According to Wikipedia, Gay Pride is a celebration honoring lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people while recognizing their dignity, equality, and contributions to society.

The universal symbol of Gay Pride is the rainbow flag. The universal symbol of Father’s Day is the ugly tie.

The President recognized Gay Pride this year issuing a moving Presidential Proclamation saying, “We celebrate the proud legacy LGBT individuals have woven into the fabric of our Nation, we honor those who have fought to perfect our Union, and we continue our work to build a society where every child grows up knowing that their country supports them, is proud of them, and has a place for them exactly as they are.”

The President was curiously silent on the subject of Father’s Day this year – my guess is Sasha and Malia gave him one too many ugly ties – but in 2013 he did say, “Fatherhood is the best job I’ve got.” (I don’t doubt the sentiment, but to be fair, fatherhood won’t you get a ride on Air Force One.)

This year marked my second year as a father and my 21st year as a gay, which means I have now celebrated Father’s Day two more times than I have celebrated Gay Pride. I have nothing against Gay Pride. It’s just not for me. I’ve never waved a rainbow flag. I love pageantry and have a healthy appreciation for sequins but I have never walked in a Pride Parade. I enjoy being gay, but in terms of my identity it’s number five or six on the list somewhere after “donut lover” but before “lapsed yogi”.

And now more than ever it feels so antiquated. We are here, we are queer, everyone is used to it. There is an irony in wanting to be noticed by the mainstream when you have become the mainstream.

Still, I understand the significance of and have great respect for the institution of Pride; without it, and all those brave men and women who proudly waved flags and marched before me, I may very well not be where I am today. Every last one of us as Americans owes them a debt.

And while I acknowledge that debt and recognize the importance of teaching my children to be proud of their fathers and to celebrate and be inclusive of all people, I like the idea of a world where there is no Gay Pride because that would mean being gay is no longer special, at least not in a different way. Gay would be like being male or female or black or white; it’s what you are, not who you are.

But then I suppose I do celebrate Pride. I celebrate Pride every day. I live my life in the open, as I have for the past two decades, now with my husband and my two sons. The four of us live our lives just like all the other families on the block. We are proud. Every day. We celebrate that pride by being extraordinarily ordinary. And on Father’s Day, we get ugly ties.


* I mean a homosexual father, not a middle-aged gay man who has a more dominant personality and doesn’t mind providing monetary funds and/or protection and guidance to his younger boyfriend.