Honorable mention

Many months ago, I entered a Real Simple magazine writing contest. SPOILER ALERT: I lost.

I wasn't going to post my entry here for a few reasons. One, it's a little bit on the sappy side (I figured a heartfelt piece about how we came to adopt our daughter, from a male perspective, would hit those ladies -- I assume only women work at Real Simple; is that wrong? -- right where it hurts: in the heart. Strategy fail), and I've had a few too many of those in the past few months. What can I say -- I'm getting sentimental in my young age. Also, I try not to write too much about our daughter here, because no one wants to read about other people's kids (unless of course it's me reading about your kids; they're adorably hilarious! And smart!), and because some of this I touched upon in an earlier piece about the adoption.

But then I figured, screw it. I worked really hard on this, and I didn't want it to go to waste, even if it wouldn't earn me the $3,000 first-place prize and trip to New York City (I could have seen the Empire State Building!) to share a lettuce wrap with several editors who would undoubtedly scoff at my impressive catalog of silly baseball card write-ups. Bitter? Not at all.

The theme was "I never thought I'd ..." I had originally written an entirely different piece involving an encounter with grizzly bears (which will appear somewhere else soon), but scrapped it in favor of something more ... non-bear-related. As usual, I should have gone with the bears. Anyway, here it is.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

“My wife is a strong Italian woman from Brooklyn.”

This is how I began our quest for a child.

We had been foster parents for about a year as we sat there in our living room, discussing our goals with our licensing worker. At the moment we were fostering a three-year old girl and her baby brother. With no kids of our own, fostering was our first foray into the wild world of parenting. Going from zero-to-two in 60 seconds—these children had literally shown up on our doorstep just months earlier—provided us a crash course. Normally a slave to routine and organized to a tee, I sat there on this day amidst the aftermath of Hurricane Toy, sleepless and just a tad overwhelmed, with spit-up stains on my shoulder and Dora the Explorer on in the background piercing my brain with its redundancy. We get it, Map. Barn, river, then castle. You only have to tell me once!

Sure, there was a bit of naïveté in our desire to become foster parents and make a difference in this crazy world. One week into it we were jaded by the system. Our first placement, a newborn baby boy, was unceremoniously picked up by the state after being with us for just a few days. Now we were headfirst into our second placement, which was not without its own challenges.

Just days earlier, our lovely foster daughter had spit on her teacher at daycare. Good times. Her little brother, meanwhile, had somehow managed to acquire almost every treatable ailment known to man, from acid reflux to respiratory issues. Many a night was spent trying to corral a three-year old girl while tangled in the tubes of her brother’s breathing apparatus.

Still, we had no regrets. And truthfully, our motives for fostering weren’t entirely selfless, as we had also hoped, through foster care, to one day adopt. Our current foster kids were going back to their parents, which we always knew, and which—even though we loved them dearly—gave us a sigh of relief during moments of mayhem.

In fact, the kids were in the beginning stages of transitioning back home, which is why we were discussing our future. We had hoped our next placement could be more of the fost-to-adopt variety, in that we’d have at least a chance to become a permanent family. Our licensing worker urged us to work on our adoptive profile—a quick family bio that the state uses in part to determine which family is right for any child available for adoption through foster care. Her advice to me was, “You’re a writer, Mike. Spice it up! Make it stand out.”

A writer. Huh. My writing experience at that point had consisted mostly of having a blog in which I made fun of my old baseball cards. Now instead of poking fun at 80’s mustaches and ill-fitting uniforms, I’d be writing, in effect, for a child. No biggie.

And so I began, describing my wife, then myself, and then yes, our dog, in all the glorious and dramatic detail I could muster.

The way it works is this. Agencies will send out emails to foster parents with regards to a child who is available for adoption through foster care. If you choose to express interest, your particular agency will submit your profile and the state will then make its selection from the candidates.

The emails themselves and the children they describe are far ranging. It could be a newborn boy with no adverse medical background, or, more likely, a 13-year old teenage girl who has moved through seven foster homes and most recently burned down a nearby abandoned building. As someone looking to adopt, you cannot have a bleeding heart, and you must know the right fit for your family.

About a month after submitting our profile, we received an email about a child available for adoption. She was a one-month old baby girl. When we began the process of becoming foster parents, our agency asked us to write down our ideal situation. If you were able to adopt, describe the child you have dreamed about. As I read this girl’s profile, it felt like our ideal situation was being read back to me. I emailed our licensing worker back immediately, expressing our interest. My wife and I, however, curbed our enthusiasm. We were jaded, remember. Plus, this was a baby. Everyone wants a baby.

Our reservations were confirmed when, after almost two months, we had heard nothing. No matter, as we were now getting ready to take our little foster kiddos back home. With freedom on the horizon, we decided we’d take a break from foster care for a while.

The week leading up to the kids’ return home was hectic and extremely emotional to say the least. I thought I’d be whistling “Dixie” as I packed up the gigantic Dora play castle that had been sitting in the middle of our living room for the past eight months, but it was difficult to hold back the tears. This whirlwind of activity and emotion was interrupted when our licensing worker called my wife. She informed her that we had been chosen as the prospective adoptive parents of that baby girl.

It had been so long since that email that my wife didn’t understand at first. Once it sunk in, she excitedly asked ten more times if it was really true. It was. Out of twenty-one families, we were chosen.

We wouldn’t be taking a break after all. Just days after reuniting our foster kids with their family—a bittersweet moment that was helped immeasurably by the realization that we may have a family of our own on the horizon—we’d be traveling to go meet our new daughter.

After a sleepless night spent fretting over what-ifs and marveling at what-could-be, and now with jitters from both nerves and strong coffee, I took a deep breath as we entered a drab conference room full of caseworkers and adoption liaisons. Our eyes passed them all in our frantic search for her. There she was, her big brown eyes looking upward as she took her bottle. I’d always had a picture in my head of what she’d look like, and miraculously, she matched that image perfectly. Everything faded to white noise as I held her, and I looked at my wife, now a mom. Pure joy. Still, that voice in my head kept asking, “Why us?”

As the conversation wrapped up, and we prepared for our life as new parents, the meeting’s coordinator asked if we had any questions. I did, in fact. I turned to the caseworker and said, “I just have to ask—why did you choose us? We heard twenty other families were interested. What was it about us?”

She leaned forward, looked at us and said, “Honestly? It was the first line of your family profile. After I read the rest, I knew you guys were the ones.”

I guess it stood out. Wow. I never thought I’d write my way into fatherhood.

I can’t be sure what it was, exactly, that sold her. This woman was not Italian and was, in fact, a southwest native. So she wasn’t playing favorites. Had she been drawn in by the acknowledgment of a strong female presence, and a husband who vouches for her? Had another prospective father touted his strong Greek wife from Queens, but not followed up with the appropriate prose? It should also be mentioned that our profile, at the time, was bereft of our photo and additional family specifics, so it was our brief bio and only our brief bio that seemed to suffice. Indeed, it seemed, it was plenty.

I like to believe it was my writing that literally brought us together as a family. We were trying to conceive, yes, but little did I know what wonders the simple technique of placing my fingers on the keyboard would do.

Of course, I’d be a fool not to believe—considering the timing, the circumstances, and, well, her—that Divine Intervention played a much larger role. To that extent, we’ve stopped asking, “Why us?” Instead, we just say, everyday, “thank you.”

We officially adopted our daughter this past summer, but she had already become our everything, the center of our permanent family. Going from two-to-one wasn’t the breeze I anticipated, but it’s different when the one is the one. I remain perpetually a tad overwhelmed, but such is my new routine.

Every time I look at our daughter I’m reminded of the impact of the words I had written that night. I’ve been writing a lot more lately. What can I say? She inspires me.

That makes two women in this house who inspire me—a floppy-haired little dynamo and a strong Italian woman from Brooklyn. Without both, I wouldn’t be here.

Watching Dora.


Joe S. said…
Awesome story, Mike. Funny how little ones can make saps out of the toughest of men. And for those of us who were never the toughest of men, we become even sappier saps.
Laurke said…
Love it. We are fostering now (had the last couple for 6.5 months) but haven't made the jump to wanting-to-adopt quite yet. What a great story you have :)
Anonymous said…
Mike, & now our lives are filled with such joy & happiness & so so proud to have this absolute beauty as our Granddaughter.
mkenny59 said…
@Joe: Thanks! I wrote this after wrestling an alligator, so it IS amazing what the little ones can do to us super-tough dudes!

@Laurke: Kudos to you on foster-parenting ... keep up the great work! And thanks for the kind words.

@Anonymous: Is that you, Pete? Ha. Thanks, Mom!
Judy said…
I still think you should have won the contest!