I’ve Been Thinking … Adoption Becomes a Reality
Blogger Kari Wagner-Peck, MSW, and her husband, Ward, decided to adopt a foster child late in life. In her first book “Not Always Happy,” Kari chronicles the emotions the couple experienced while going through the adoption process and raising their son, Thorin, who has Down syndrome.
Below is a compilation excerpt from the book:
Four months after the Department of Health and Human Services’ adoption classes ended, we were no closer to having a child. Getting face-time with a case worker became our singular goal.
The answer came from my sister, Betty.
“You need to be unconventional. The staff’s mostly women, right?”
“What do women want?”
“I don’t know, F-r-e-u-d, what do women want?”
“They want sugar, Kari.”
“Ok, this is what you do. Go buy some sugary treat and crash DHHS. Tell them you want to meet with a caseworker.”
“These women have stressful, low paying jobs and they want sugar.”
“They’ll think I’m ridiculous.”
“They’ll think you have sugar– they want it and they won’t question it. Trust me.
“What should we get?”
“Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins. The assortment box.”
“Shouldn’t it be something fancier?”
“Why put on airs?”
I called Ward: “We’re going to crash DHHS after work with donut holes.”
I knew he was as beaten down as I was when he simply said, “Right. See ya later.” Click.
As we walked into DHHS the woman sitting behind the reception desk reminded me a little bit of Glenda the Good Witch. I took that as a sign the Munchkins were a good choice.
She cocked her head and a mane of blond curls fell over, “Can I help you?”
I put the box on her desk:
“Yeah, I hope so. We need to see an adoption worker. We’ve been through your training. We want to adopt a kid. We have fifty donut holes — you get 6 to let someone know we are here— the rest goes to whoever comes down.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, we are”.
She picked up the phone. After a brief conversation, she hung up and told us someone would be down shortly. She also asked if we would consider adopting her.
Our moment of conception was Ward and I standing next to each other in our dining room listening to a voicemail from our adoption worker:
“Hi, guys! I met someone today who may be a match for you. He’s beautiful. He’s two years old and —- he has Down syndrome. Let me know what you think?”
Let me know what you think? We’d made it clear the biggest “disability” we were capable of handling was a kid who was left-handed or maybe color-blind.
I turned to Ward, “Did she say ‘Down syndrome’?”
“We better listen to that message again.”
We listened to it seven times until we were absolutely convinced she had said “Down syndrome.”
Ward put his arm around me: “I don’t know why, but that doesn’t bother me”.
“Me either. Why is that?”
“For some reason, it’s like I’m relieved. Everyone has something. We just know what his something is.”
He was right. We had learned everyone in foster-care – as in life—has something that makes them more vulnerable. I looked up at my husband. His gaze seemed to follow some unseen course into the future. Neither of us said anything for a minute.
I broke the silence. “Do you feel calm? Because I feel calm.”
“Let’s go with that then.”
I called her back the next day: “We’re interested.”
“Great. I can tell you his name is Thorin.”
“Oh, I love that name!”
“Have you ever heard it before?”
Giddy, I shared, “No. Never.”
We shared our news about Thorin with family and friends. This is where you find out what people really think about Down syndrome. No one said anything close to “Hey, that’s awesome, congratulations!” It was more like, “Why do you want to do that to yourself?” or “That sounds hard.” And, even— “Don’t do that, please.”
A few weeks later our caseworker emailed me a photo of Thorin.
This was our sonogram—evidence the boy we already loved existed. Blond hair. Blue eyes.
Suddenly, a forgotten memory:
The first night Ward and I slept together I had a dream. He was holding a boy with blond hair and blue eyes. I knew he was our son. I didn’t say anything to Ward in the morning. After a single night of passion, he would likely think Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction.”
Now looking at the photo of Thorin, I felt that calm again. I carried the picture with me everywhere. I talked to him in my head constantly. Mostly, I said, “Hold on.” “Soon.” “I love you.”
Most people meet their child for the first time in a delivery room, we met Thorin in the lobby of a single-story office building in a business park. Ward and I stood anxiously with a lawyer, a caseworker, a case manager and an overly interested receptionist — you know, the usual crowd at a birth.
Sherry, Thorin’s foster mom for fourteen months, walked in holding him in her arms. He peeked at us over her shoulder where he was burrowed. I can still see his profile against Sherry’s sweater: a gorgeous boy with blond with blond hair, blue, almond-shaped eyes, a little squished nose, a shy sweet smile. His soft fist resting on his chin. Thorin became the subject in sharp focus, everything and everyone was a blur.
What do you say the first time you meet your two and half-year-old son?
“I love you! I can’t believe this is happening!”
But you can’t. You just try to breathe.
Ward and I moved to hug him – which also meant hugging Sherry. We pulled them both into us.
We were ushered into a conference room.
I kept my hands pressed against the table’s edge, so I wouldn’t float away. Everyone sounded like they were talking underwater. I wanted to cry. How did they expect us to behave normally?
After a few minutes, Thorin crawled out of Sherry’s lap onto the table. He sat Buddha-like, moving his eyes from Ward to me and back again. It was clear we were being vetted. I was impressed: Our son had serious balls!
Kari Wagner-Peck is an unschooling mom, author and activist storyteller. She authors the blog, a typical son. Her debut memoir is NOT ALWAYS HAPPY: AN UNUSUAL PARENTING JOURNEY. Her writing has been featured on The New York Times Well Family blog, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Huffington Post, and others. Not Always Happy is also a storytelling production. It premiered at Portland Stage’s Studio Series in November, 2017.
This essay was featured in the Mother’s Day edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.