|Photo Credit: Cory Popp|
by Nancy, our database administrator
I have learned—okay, granted, I am learning—what to do about drawing and crossing lines when it comes to being an adoptive parent.
As the mother of an adopted child who is in her twenties, I am learning that in defining an adoptive family’s borders, a parent’s and a child’s line choices might be wholly different, raising an eyebrow as to whether they even define the same “box”.
Ever go into the borders options in a software program? Impressive what one can do to compartmentalize text, picture or section of a document! Tons of options, right? Lines can be dashed or straight. Curved or wavy. Narrow or thick. Then comes a choice about the thickness—from double to hairline—not to mention coloring those lines! Or whether to get fancy and use an art border—with options of little birds, push pins, globes and more.
I have not, though, been unwilling to use color or even art in making those borders. I’d be okay with hot air balloons. Or maybe birds in flight! And I’ve considered whether a peacock blue, emerald green or a line of light lemon is more representative of us. But whatever I am willing to concede in design, I never thought of decreasing the size of the line from the standard 36 point (although, admittedly, I was ready to do a double line border, for extra measure.) To me, these borders formed a fortress—a protective gate, of sorts—to keep our family safe, albeit encased. And, in my way of thinking, this was a good thing.
Our daughter, however, has quite a different idea about her family’s borders. Ever the artist, she selected the finest brush tip available when crafting the lines of her life/our family beyond the growing up years. Quite majestically, and with purpose, she began producing her creation—rounded edges, with the narrowest possible border. Barely discernible. At least when one looks from certain angles.
As a result, her lines defined not a box as much as a container with an open top—much like a fishbowl—which she could swim in and out of, at will. This is a lovely concept in many ways but, nonetheless, still stirs up emotions in me.
This can be an extremely sensitive issue for adoptive parents who, more than likely, struggle with the element of feeling worthy to be parent in the first place. (Okay, I speak for myself.) Perhaps it goes with the territory. What does an adoptive parent do when confronted with an unspoken of invisible tug-of-war with birth family members? For the sake of their child I can’t imagine either side wants to make parenting a competition—adoptive vs. birth family members. But, the adoptive family wants to still be considered a place for their adopted children to continue to swim—at least some of the time. (Hence, the the thick, safe borders!)
Yet when an adopted child finds another bowl to swim in, the adoptive parents will feel something about it. Maybe wondering what to say. What not to say. Adoptive parents still want to be on their child’s radar screen for they are raising their child(ren)—protecting them, caring for them and doing their best for them. Yet they can surely understand that an adopted child has natural curiosity to discover their roots. Seeing their genes and mannerisms in siblings and birth mothers/fathers might give them a much needed sense of fullness as they discover their own life journey. At the very least, it might quell their inquisitiveness.
Not that adoptive or birth parents wish to totally displace or usurp each other’s positions, but feelings can get raw—on both sides. No parent wants to be rejected. Sensitivity in the adoptive process is par for the course. And it doesn’t necessarily end when the adopted child turns 18, 21, or—who knows—maybe even 40. It is natural for adoptive parents to preserve the family unit they created. And with a legacy of caring for and raising their child, adoptive parents don’t want to be left with only memories.
Since there is a great amount of searching going on these days through the internet and social media options and more adoptive parents might find themselves in similar circumstances, perhaps I can offer some perspective—
Adoptive parents who watch erasure of the thick lines of their family’s borders because of search and reunion will most likely experience a sense of loss—however long it lasts. Whether verbalized or not, there can be outrage or jealousy or deep sadness, none of which is necessarily helpful to voice to their child. But I think it is okay to acknowledge these feelings.
Should you see it happen, consider joining that revolution! That apron strings will be cut aside, you can serve yourself and your child by doing the same: thin the lines! Let go of the need for fortress thick borders. For by refusing to take this lead, you might be crossing a fine line.
I realize that our daughter needs this freedom to swim in and out, at will. As much as it scares me, I have willingly begun erasing some of the thickness of our borders in concert with her. Admittedly, this is a big step for me. It isn’t without some tears, some loneliness and wondering. It isn’t without mustering a whole lot of faith. Yet, to me, it is the heart of any parent to do the best for their child—no matter what it takes in sacrifice on our part.
Learning what our child needs at any age is part of the parenting process, even when they get older. Perhaps especially when they are older. To insist on “because I say so” might mar the future, barricading one in their fortress, and making it hard for their child to find a way to swim in.
After all, depending upon the angle, fine lines (even those thinned by the noblest of intentions) –however faint—still do exist!
Mother’s day, which only recently has been turned into a “Hallmark” holiday celebrating the person one calls “mom”, historically was a symbolic and spiritual time when societies celebrated the Goddess and other symbolic manifestations of motherhood. The literal translation of celebrating your “mom” is a relatively new phenomenon.
Mothers and the qualities of being a mother can come from many different people and things in your life, not just the person who you might call “mom”.
Sunday many will enjoy brunch or dinner with their mothers on one of the busiest restaurant days of the year, or breakfast in bed prepared by well-intentioned children; and sadly many of us will be feeling the deep loss of a mother, a not-so-happy day for some. It’s complicated.
So in the spirit of ancient times, let us honor, celebrate, and reflect on those maternal qualities that thoughts of motherhood elicits. Is it your mother? A close friend? A great Aunt? Your teacher? A peaceful place in the forest you go to meditate? What is yours?
Whether literal or symbolic, pause to reflect on what Mother’s Day means to you.
Recently, I attended two events that demonstrated what can happen when someone has a vision and the determination to make it reality.
In recognition of its 40th year of creating families for children, the National Adoption Center inducted Carolyn Johnson into its newly created Adoption Hall of Fame. Carolyn, working from a wooden recipe box on her kitchen table, believed that no child was unadoptable; she gathered the names of children who needed families and prospective parents and began to make “matches.” From this beginning, she founded the National Adoption Center. Carolyn’s induction was held at the Center’s annual gala, Celebration of Family, in a room filled with children whose families had been created through adoption. I was thrilled to see Joyce Mosley and her son, Kevin. Joyce was the first single woman in Pennsylvania to adopt a child; Kevin, now 42, was two when his mom-to-be saw his photograph and description in The Philadelphia Inquirer. She says, “I knew from the minute I saw his face that he was going to be my son.” Kevin is now the father of two sons.
That Sunday, I attended another celebration, also focused on children—the official opening of the Miracle Field of Northhampton Township, Pennsylvania. Through the diligent efforts of a group of business persons, parents and media, children with special needs—even those in wheelchairs and on crutches—are now able to play baseball. I watched their first game with moist eyes. It was the culmination of a dream for these boys and girls who, for the first time, were able to swing a bat or hit a ball on a safe playing field. The field in Northhampton is one of 250 such facilities in the country, an undertaking that began a decade ago in a small town outside of Atlanta.
Both events made it clear that possibilities can become realities that make a difference in the way children grow up. Peter, an eight-year-old who wears a leg brace, slid into the first base with a teenage aide at his side. He grinned at those of us cheering in the audience, letting us know that he had found his “home.”
There has been a great deal of talk lately here in Philadelphia about the story of little Khalil Wimes. Khalil was found dead from head trauma March 19 when his birth parents brought him to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. His corpse weighed only 29 pounds and bore scars across his face and the rest of his body. Authorities believe Khalil suffered beatings at the hands of his parents for as long as two years. He had been removed from their care one week after his birth on Valentine’s Day 2006. By that time, the Department of Human Services had already removed seven of his older siblings from his parents’ care for neglect.
Khalil lived in the loving care of his foster parents until he was 3. They eventually hoped to adopt him. In 2008, over the objection of his social worker, his child advocate, and his foster parents, Khalil was returned to his birth parents. According to Family Court transcripts, the Department of Human Services endorsed reunifying Khalil with his parents since the couple had stayed off drugs for a six-month period, took a parenting class, and got an apartment. DHS monitored Khalil for one year after he was returned to them. Investigators believe the abuse started immediately after the monitoring ended.
Who’s to blame here? Clearly these individuals were unfit parents, yet a judge ordered Kahlil be returned to his birth parents, rather than stay with the loving foster parents who wanted to adopt him. When is reunification not in the best interests of the child? How can tragedies like this be avoided in the future?
We kicked this month off right, with a special visit to Louis Christian Wayne Robert Salon & Spa! The event's theme was “Princes for a day”, Queen for a lifetime”. At the salon, the stylists donated their time to four amazing, previously-featured Wednesday’s Children who still need of a forever family. The youth received treatment worthy of superstars beginning with hair continuing with make-up services.
The Delta Sigma Theta sorority assisted as part of their community day of service. The Sisters spoke with the young women to learn each individual's interests and hobbies. The goal of each Sister was to make sure that these youth know that they are beautiful, important and amazing.
NBC 10 was also there! They captured footage of this special day and interviewed each young woman about what family means to her. This will be broadcast on NBC 10 in the near future.
Capital Grille was next on the list of treats for the day. The restaurant's staff prepared delicious meals for all involved in this special day, while management picked up the tab! The Sorority Sisters then presented each young woman with a huge, personalized bag filled with goodies. When I spoke with the young women who participated that day, they were completely overwhelmed by the treatment they received. We'd we are grateful to all those who made this such a special day for these special young women!
Cheilin, 18, makes friends wherever she goes. She is personable and very humorous! Cheilin has been diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy and uses a wheelchair to get around. In the future, she would like to be a psychologist.
Ashanti, 17, likes to cook and look good. She is very fashionable. Those who know Ashanti say she is bright and sensitive. Ashanti can be shy when meeting new people and does not like to be the center of attention.
Karimah, 15, loves to sing and dance. Church is really important to her. She is sweet and kind. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging on the couch watching football.
Cassandra, 13, loves to sing and dance. She is proud of the Spanish language she knows and likes to show it off. She is humble and likes to try new things.
Each of these teens has been featured on Wednesday’s Child. While they have not yet found a forever family, each is hopeful a family will step up soon. These youth represent the many more youth who deserve and are open to finding the love and care of a forever family.
Will you be that family?
Last week I attended my first match party hosted by the National Adoption Center. Going into it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was that match parties put youth seeking adoptive families and adults approved to adopt together in a pressure-free setting, in hopes that some “magic” will happen; that a family will form.
The match party was held at Arnold’s Family Fun Center in Oaks, PA – a giant warehouse-like building that boasts go-karts, laser tag, an arcade and bowling…in short, a kid’s dream world. This party was designed for older youth and teens, an age group that is often overlooked in the rush for babies and younger children.
Amid games of ski-ball and bumper car rides, I watched how the youth and prospective adoptive families interacted. I saw one couple in particular who really connected with two teens. They spent the entire day together – the wife and a girl of about 14 sporting ear-to-ear smiles while in line for laser tag and the husband battling it out on a seemingly never-ending video game with a boy who looked about 13. At the end of the party it was clear they had made an impact on one another. Pulling out of Arnold’s at the end of the day, I wondered if these sparks would catch; if I had witnessed the making of a family.
We will be celebrating NAC’s 40 years of service at its 2012 Celebration of Family: the Art of Adoption Gala on April 25th. One of the most anticipated features of the gala is the reveal and auctioning off of ten masterpieces, all inspired by adoption, but each one created by a different renowned Philadelphia artist. These artists range in their media anywhere from paintings, to prints, to sculptures, and even mosaics. All artists have had the opportunity to meet with adoptive families and their children, who are now out of foster care; an opportunity that has become essential to the inspiration of each work.
Some artists, like Perry Milou are pulling from other sources of influence too. This pop artist, who has been praised for his vibrancy, forward-thinking, and glamorous pop art, has had some personal experience with the world of adoption himself. Having known the hardships of growing up with a single parent, Milou was later fortunate enough to be adopted, thus thoroughly appreciating the stability and love of a forever family. He is thrilled to be a part of this celebration of adoption.
|Perry Milou’s portrait of his daughter Francesca|
Milou recently met up with the Thomas family to learn about their adoption story as inspiration for his upcoming piece. Jonathan, 14, Alaina, 17, and Isaiah, 18, were adopted together by Jane and John Thomas only a few years ago, and the family is thriving. . . but it wasn’t easy. The teens had to overcome many past traumas of their foster care lives, physically, mentally, and emotionally. But now, with the support and guidance of their forever family, the three are as close to their adoptive parents as any biological child would be. And they’re happy! Alaina is always ecstatic about reporting the daily happenings of school to her mom each day, while Jonathan and Isaiah enjoy the typical brotherly rough-housing, especially with a new addition to the family, their baby brother Jordan.
Seeing these siblings begin to dream about the potential of their futures, Perry Milou is also dreaming up a work of art that could possibly capture and celebrate the extraordinary success of adoption stories that happen each and every day.
|The Thomas family|
To learn about NAC’s gala and all of the participating artists go to the Gala's online home.