Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My First Adoption Experience

When I was 20 and engaged to be married I told my then fiance that I didn't want to have biological children--that I felt a strong desire to adopt orphaned children, possibly of various races--that there were so many unwanted children, so why bring more children into the world--better to take in the ones with no parents.  That first year of marriage we were involved in an inner city bus ministry, working with hundreds of city kids, ages 4-16.  I absolutely loved those kids and wanted to make a more lasting impact on children's lives, so we decided to become foster parents.  I told our caseworker that I only wanted short-term placements at that point because I didn't want to get too attached and be heartbroken when the kids went back with their parents.  About a month after we were approved, we got our first call.  We were asked to take in two sisters, ages five and six.  It was expected to be a six month placement, as their mother was working towards getting her children back.

Shannyn and Elizabeth didn't fit the description of what any of the naysayers warned us about.  They didn't have rebellious attitudes, didn't steal things, weren't wild, and didn't try to set the house on fire.  On the contrary, they were sweet, funny, well behaved, confident, well adjusted, and street-smart in a humorous way (you can check out the pictures below!).  They seemed comfortable in our house the moment they stepped foot inside.  Now, granted, I was only 22 and so even though I THOUGHT I knew everything I needed to know to be a good mother to these girls, I really didn't have a clue.  I pretty much treated them as if I were their big sister--we did fun things together, I drove them to their dance and soccer classes, but I was lacking in emotional nurturing and physical affection.

Learning to do Shannyn and Elizabeth's hair was a new adventure.  They are African American, and I, with all my "experience" of doing people's (and Barbie heads') hair, figured that it wouldn't really be that difficult.  So I boldly took out their corn rows after the first week, and I washed their hair, put some detangle spray (for white people's hair) and started trying to comb through it.  Right at that point I started to think I could be in a bit of trouble.  I got the parts as straight as I could and then proceeded to do small french braids all over their hair.  It wasn't very pretty.  I felt really bad for them having to go to school looking like that, so right away I got in touch with an African American woman from my church and she showed me how to do their hair.  It was a primitive technique though, and I still wasn't happy with it.  Then, at our first visit with the girls' mom she showed me how to do the little corn rows, and after that I got more and more creative, soon adding beads and extensions--the whole nine yards.  In fact, their hair looked better than most other African American girls we knew, and the African Amercian moms would gladly admit it (and would ask me to do their daughters' hair, which I politely declined!).

The six month placement turned into a year, turned into 18 months, turned into two years, etc..  Of course I was emotionally attached to them by now but I still tried to keep an emotional separation between us.  After all, we were having visits with their birth mother and she was still expected to get them back--she was just slow on her progress.  So I tried to keep both them and myself prepared for the break-up by talking about her frequently and not getting very close emotionally.  This was a bad decision and I wish I would have been more mature, not to be so selfish in trying to preserve my own emotional well being, that I neglected theirs. 

My girsl hadn't been enrolled in school prior to living with me, so they were a year behind grade level. This seemed to affect their self esteem, so three years after their placement with me I quit my teaching job and home schooled them.  This was a great decision.  It's amazing how much a child can flourish when given so much one-on-one attention--when taken out of  the school system, where kids learn despite being in a classroom of twenty other kids and not because of it; where the number one thing they learn is how to abound in foolishness and worldliness because they're so influenced by their peers.  My girls progressed so quickly academically.  In four years, we did five years of school and caught them up to their proper grade level.  And when they did finally go back to school (a decision I now regret!) they were delighted with how easy school was compared to home schooling--they pretty much breezed right through.

Going back to the beginning--most of us don't know what it's like to be around kids who aren't spoiled.  We're so used to it that it's normal to us.  So I was really touched with how much my girls appreciated everything that was given to them or done for them.  I remember our first Christmas with the girls.  Let me first back up and say that when I got the girls in September 1991, they each came with only one outfit, one pair of pajamas, and not a single toy.  My parents came over that first weekend and took the girls shopping at Wal Mart to buy several new outfits.  You should have heard the "ooohs" and "ahhhhhhs" at the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, etc. outfits they were picking out.  They weren't picky or unappreciative--anything you offered to buy them was like a treasure to them and they didn't think of asking for something high priced.  So back to Christmas--we kind of went overboard that first year because everything we saw in the toy store we felt they "needed."  That first Christmas morning was a morning I will never forget--there were packages everywhere and two little excited girls thrilled at absolutely everything and anything they opened.  I mean, when they opened a deck of cards, they were like "Ooooh cards! thank you! thank you!"  I couldn't believe my eyes.  Had I opened a deck of cards at any point in my childhood, I would have said a polite "thanks" with a smile and then moved onto the next gift.  All our relatives had a blast that year giving Shannyn and Elizabeth presents.

I think one of the best things we did for our girls was keep them grounded by continuing to serve in the inner city bus ministry.  My girls came with us on Friday nights when we visited families downtown, and they came with us all day Saturdays when we picked up the kids on the buses and brought them to church for their Bible classes.  It was good for them to be in regular contact with kids who had less than they did.  It helps a person remain content and thankful for the circumstances they are in.  Even after we moved to GA and no longer did any type of inner city ministry, and lived in a pretty affluent area, my girls were never dissatisfied with their life or their lack of a BMW the minute they turned 16, or their lack of Abercrombie and Fitch clothes, etc.  They had a realistic view of life and are better adults today because of it. 

In my next blog I'll talk about how I was able to adopt my girls even though the state of PA was against it (yes, it was a racial thing).  And also how God miraculously provided the finances to do it:)

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