Today’s guest post is by Tracy Mazuer.
When my husband and I met Jonathan, he was 12 ½ and playing the Mexican game Lotería at what would be his last “adoption fair” with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. By the following year he would age out of this program — the county’s biggest and best effort to find adoptive homes for foster children.
Jonathan was quiet and beautiful with thick, long black hair that dropped straight to his shoulders, big dark brown eyes that, when they looked up at you, revealed a certain depth of knowing that belied his age. His Lauren Bacall-esque gap-toothed smile (if you were lucky enough to get one) beamed childlike enthusiasm along with a sweet shyness.
My husband and I had found ourselves at this “foster adoption fair” after having spent $50,000, four long years, and two emotionally devastating trips to Ukraine to adopt a little girl. It was a dark, corrupt journey that left us without a child and little hope of finding one. Our social worker who had carried us through our home study process was now working at a children’s center that specialized in foster adoptions. When we came home from Ukraine more devastated than the last time, she recommended we check out the foster-adopt program. We were hesitant because we knew the headline horror story that accompanied foster children: The child will be stripped away and sent back to live with the abusive family of origin. That had been the beauty of international adoption. Find your child, close the door. No family of origin, no mess.
We had also heard a multitude of other “problems” with foster kids: They’re more severely traumatized because they’ve had multiple placements, you’ll have to do regular visits with their family of origin, these kids are “troubled” and will get “in trouble.” But when we broke it down, we knew that all orphans are “troubled” and there’s another word for it called….hurt. We also began to realize that a child’s connection to their family of origin (as painful as it may be) can show us healthy signs of attachment – that most important ability to connect.
With nothing left to lose, we dove into the program, took all of the classes, completed yet our 3rd home-study, and signed up to foster-adopt a little girl between the ages of 1-5. We still had our toddler room ready to go from our Ukrainian adoption replete with clothes, books, crib, toys and chandelier. We had been told it might take time to find a single girl since that’s what “everyone wants” and we were way down on the waiting list. We had waited this long, we thought, what was another few years?
But within 24-hours there was a shift. The night after we were officially “certified” as foster parents (a requirement to adopt a foster child), we received a phone call with an invitation to a DCFS “Latino Adoption Fair” for the next morning. They knew it was “late notice,” but wanted to extend the invite. We went. The event was incredible for the children. There were volunteers by the dozens, food, carnival games, a DJ, prizes, and happy kids having a blast. We looked for our little girl, but she wasn’t there. There were only sibling groups and older children, but this was our first domestic adventure and we were fine with it. We spent the day playing games with kids and making sure they had the best time and won the most prizes. When lunch was served, (tacos, rice, beans and cupcakes!), my husband and I got our plates and walked to the far edge of the fair to sit with a couple of tweens. They had been playing Lotería at their table. I sat directly across the boy with the long black hair and the giant black-brown eyes. At one point my husband and I made him laugh. I remember that moment like it was in slow motion…he looked up into my eyes, looked down in shyness and giggled. That was it. My search was over. I had fallen head-over-heels-madly-in-love.
After lunch, my husband and I pulled his social worker aside (all children are accompanied by their workers at the fair) and asked her to tell us about this boy. She beamed when talking about Jonathan: He’s amazing. He wants to be a chef. He loves dogs. He’s smart and philosophical and deep. She also said his files are so thick that they would scare us. She said he’d been diagnosed with everything that would send parents running – Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder. He’d had 24 placements. He’d been thrown out of many. He’d gone to 12 schools in the 4th grade. He lived in two group homes. She said she knew this boy, though, and that he was an unbelievable kid who just needed solid parents who could ride his rollercoaster until he could settle in and be loved. And, as terrifying as it was, we knew instantly that he was our son, and she knew instantly that we were his parents.
Our little girl’s room was quickly transformed into a tween boy’s room filled with Nightmare Before Christmas paraphernalia (his favorite movie). He couldn’t believe his eyes when a few months later he walked into our home, his bedroom, his 25th placement. Two big dogs flanked his specially decorated bed and a Welcome Home sign hung from the rafters. He was speechless at first and then quietly thanked us. His social worker said that no one had ever done anything like this for him before.
That was four years ago. The ride has been the most difficult and most rewarding experience of my life. But isn’t that what all parents say? We did what most consider to be the “unthinkable.” We adopted a 13-year-old, high-risk, traumatized boy. I would never have it any other way. Our painful and extended search for a little girl led us to the child we were always meant to have – and he was right here in Los Angeles.
As for his terrifying stack of files: Jonathan is not bipolar, and what was labeled as oppositional defiance has been managed with therapy and good parenting. He does suffer from ADHD and PTSD, but that is also managed with patience and the proper care. He is attached to us as his parents, has tons of friends, and is the proud middle linebacker for his high school football team. He will be the first in his family of origin to go to college.
I have never known that I could love this deeply and this patiently. He is the light of our lives. He makes us laugh more than anyone we’ve ever known. He makes us proud to be his parents.
Tracy Mazuer is an adoptive mom of a teenage boy from foster care. She is a child advocate and television producer living in California. For comical, mini-stories of her experiences with Jonathan, go to Momofcrankyteen.tumblr.com.