See writing reject #1 here.
The New York Times has an essay section called “Modern Love” which features submissions from writers. I wrote the following submission a few months ago, and I just got word today that it was rejected. It’s a pretty concise history of our adoption, so I wanted to share it here.
Deciding to Love
My daughter asks me almost daily why I love her. I borrowed a smart answer from my friend, and I tell her, “Because you’re my daughter and you’re special to me.” I used to struggle with that answer, not because I don’t love her, but because sometimes attachments are unexplainable. Sometimes we love people, just because we do. Other times, we first decide to love someone, then later the attachment forms. And, when it does form, it is as unexplainable as those that are formed instantly.
I believe attachments that are formed through someone’s will are more common than we think. In our home, this is just a simple fact. Our children were adopted, and no matter how much we want to believe otherwise, adoptive parenting is not just like biological parenting.
That was never more apparent than when my husband and I first announced our decision to adopt. We had decided that we were able to love a child, or children, that were already here. Needless to say, the reaction was not what it would have been had we announced a pregnancy. My father was concerned about the age and race of our future children. My mother cried, mourning the fact that we may never experience a pregnancy. My in-laws said nothing, keeping their opinions to themselves. My stepfather places a lot of importance on blood relations; he was confused by our decision. He said, “You always do things your own way.”
And, he was absolutely right. We always have done things a little differently than others expect. But, just as we’ve done before, we knew we had to choose the path that was right for us.
After making our decision, we started the lengthy adoption process in January 2008, opting to go through the foster care system in our state. After much discussion, we told our agency that we were interested in one, or two children (if they were siblings) of any race between the ages of two and nine. We went through training and background checks, we filled out paperwork, and we opened our home to social workers. We read profiles of children in foster care and evaluated our capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. We expressed interest in a number of children, all while fighting with our agency to keep the process moving. While we agreed that their job was not to find us a child, but to find a child a home, we were often frustrated by their lack of empathy and their refusal to respond to our requests.
After a year, we were finally approved. In April of 2009, we received an e-mail from our social worker. She had a potential match for us. They were a brother and sister, ages 15 months and 4-years-old. They were living in a foster home just 20 minutes away. We learned about their first parents, what had happened to them since their birth, their personalities, and their challenges.
After waiting for several months, we were finally able to meet them that July. It was not difficult to make the decision to move forward with them. After many more months of weekend visits, our children moved in with us that December.
At first, our daughter was quiet, and our son had not begun to talk. As they became comfortable with us, our daughter began to show her personality. She is very talkative and outgoing, but she also revealed her love of tantrums, her ability to scream at the top of her lungs in the middle of the night, and her fear of policemen and water. Our son is just now talking, and impossibly, he’s as verbal as his sister.
We had to learn as we went. I know this is true of all parents, but missing those early years put us at a disadvantage. Safety was one of our first lessons. Once, during a weeklong visit, our son burned his hand in the oven and we spent the night at the local children’s hospital. We deemed ourselves the world’s worst parents – and we weren’t even officially parents yet. We soon outfitted our house with all of the safety equipment we could find.
We also learned about discipline. It didn’t take long to discover that we couldn’t make our children eat their dinner, especially since they were used to a lot of fast food and junk food. When it comes to appropriate behavior, we learned that for some children, especially our daughter, sticker charts are better motivators than scolding.
And, we rediscovered our belief that love is part feeling and part decision. Everything we were experiencing reinforced that sometimes you have to keep loving others, even when you don’t feel like it.
Finally, on June 25, 2010, we celebrated adoption day. After all we had been through, the culmination was surprisingly simple. We waited with countless other families and when it was our turn, we spent just five minutes in the judge’s office. My mother took photos and then we went to the lobby and had cookies and juice. It was unbelievable that such a complicated process had ended so unceremoniously and quickly.
Since then, we’ve experienced large improvements in some areas. We are mom and dad now, not Shannon and Joseph. Our kids tell us they love us. Our son started talking and our daughter got potty trained. They eat their food now, and our daughter no longer wakes up crying and whining. But some things remain the same. Our daughter gets overwhelmed and can’t control her fear and anger. Our son took up hitting and biting. Sometimes we see progress and other times we feel as though we’ve regressed.
Our family and friends came around. They realized that our kids are not terrors, they’re just kids. Everyone accepts them and loves them as full family members.
But sometimes, we’re still misunderstood. Sometimes, people think we’re saints. They tell us that they could never do what we do. But, we’re not heroes; we didn’t save our children from anything. We simply did what we felt was right for us. In fact, as we look back, we’re certain that we couldn’t have done it any other way.
But, over the past few years, we’ve come to believe a few simple adoption truths. First, adoption is an unfortunate tragedy. Ideally, parents would never go to jail, become addicted to drugs, or commit retail fraud. Ideally, there would be no place for us in our children’s lives. Ideally, they would never know us. Unfortunately, people are infallible. That includes us.
Sometimes my husband and I yell, sometimes we lose our patience. Some days we feel as though our children are making us better, yet sometimes we feel they are making us worse. They can bring out the best and the worst in us. Some days we feel like a long-established family. We feel bonded and safe together. Some days are filled with tantrums and yelling. We have such a short past together, yet in difficult times it’s hard to se the future.
We are no better than our children’s first parents. We let our children down. We lose our temper. We are incapable of perfect love.
So, we leave the door open for their first family. My stepfather once asked me, “What if they want to find their biological parents someday?” I responded, “We’ll help them. There’s more than enough love for everyone.” It’s true, we’re not threatened by their parents. Or their aunt, who has come to play such a pivotal role in our lives. I even consider her a good friend, which surprises many people. We maintain contact with some members of our children’s extended family, for what we feel is their own good. We want to help our children answer as many questions about their past as we can. But, this makes some of our friends incredulous. Perhaps I am too trusting, but long ago, I traded secrecy for openness when it comes to my kids.
At the time that they moved in with us, I thought that we would need about a year to adjust. Now, more than one year later, I feel that we still need more time. I told my sister-in-law this as we celebrated Christmas this past December.
My husband was sitting next to me and he asked why I felt this way. I responded that I felt we needed more time to bond with each other. My husband, replied, “Maybe, but no matter how much time we have, we’ll probably never be a ‘normal’ family.” Of course, he’s right. We’ll never be “normal.” But we’ll be us, and that’s what matters. We were true to ourselves – we did it our way. We chose to love.