Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"I've Been Mommy Ever Since"

Summer and her husband, Leonard, had always talked about adopting. Growing up, both had personal ties to adoption. Summer’s mother was adopted when she was two years old. When Leonard was 14 years old his aunt and uncle, who were unable to have a child, adopted his cousin as an infant. For both Summer and Leonard, their previous experiences with adoption had been positive.

The bi-racial couple already had two biological daughters. They were interested in finding a boy and, racially, they wanted a child that could fit in best with their family make up. Realizing they “didn’t want to do the baby thing again with the diapers,” they also wanted an older child.

Well aware that older children were likely to come with baggage, the two candidly discussed together (and eventually with their case worker) the situations that as a family they felt they could and couldn’t handle. “I felt kind of bad…I felt like I was going to Petsmart,” says Summer. But she and Leonard were committed to not taking in a child that wasn’t a fit for them. They wanted somebody they could relate to, and they wanted the child to feel he could relate to them.

In March of 2007 they saw the Heart Gallery, a touring exhibit featuring photos of and information about children waiting to be adopted, on display at Citrus Park Mall. They took information cards on a couple of the children profiled. The following week Summer contacted Camelot Community Care, an agency in Hillsborough County that facilitates foster adoptions.

Through Camelot, in July of 2007 the couple began MAPP (Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting), Florida’s required training program for all potential foster and foster adoptive families. Until they began the classes, they didn’t realize how many children in our area were in the foster care system, or how many were available for adoption. Summer remembers her shock at realizing that kids her daughter goes to school with could be in this situation.

That fall, the couple went through the next step in the process of adoption, which was a home study to determine if they would be eligible to adopt a child out of state care. As it turned out, at that same time a little African American boy who would eventually come to be known to them as Isaiah was living in a foster home the couple’s case manager also oversaw. S ummer and Leonard had actually seen Isaiah’s picture on the Heart Gallery. At that time he was listed as having been placed since his foster parents intended to adopt him, so the couple didn’t take his information card. But he had definitely caught their eye.

In October, Isaiah’s adoption by his foster family fell through, and he was moved into another of Summer and Leonard’s caseworker’s foster homes. In December, he was once again scheduled for “match,” the formal process by which those seeking to adopt are considered as possible families for children eligible for adoption. Knowing he fit the profile of the child Summer and Leonard were looking for, their case worker contacted the couple to see if they would like to be presented as a possible match for Isaiah.

From later conversations with their caseworker Summer and Leonard learned the match committee was firm in its position that Isaiah should have a strong African American father figure. His guardian ad litem also felt he needed to have a religious family, as church was something he had become accustomed to in his time with his foster family. Summer recalls their case worker calling to say, “They want to know if you attend a church and, if so, which one?” Summer answered, yes, and provided the requested information. They were deemed an appropriate match, and the process by which they would be introduced to Isaiah, and he to them, began.

Summer and Leonard’s family first met Isaiah on January 20, 2008. He had just turned 6 years old. Subsequent visits went well and Summer soon felt comfortable mentioning to Isaiah that it was okay if he called her mom, but it was okay if he called her Summer, too. Shortly after that, he started calling her mommy. “And I’ve been mommy ever since,” she says.

Five weeks after their first meeting, Isaiah moved in with his new mom, dad, and sisters.

Prior to the adoption hearing, Isaiah asked if he could change his name. He asked Summer what names she liked. When she told them that had their youngest daughter been a boy, her name would have been Isaiah, he said “I want that name,” and they began to practice calling him by it. Shortly thereafter, his teacher sent a note home that said, “I don’t know what’s going on but he’s telling the kids that his name is Isaiah.” Summer remembers laughing as she phoned the teacher to explain that Isaiah wasn’t crazy, and he wasn’t speaking of an imaginary friend, but that the name change was part of his impending adoption. Summer and Leonard finalized their adoption of Isaiah on May 30, 2008.

Looking back, Summer reflects that “Isaiah has been able to fit into my family as if he’d always been there,” and that he has always felt at home with them. During the year and a half he has been with them, he has not exhibited any significant delays, and he has not been diagnosed with any disorders typical to the foster adoptive population. At the start of first grade last fall he received N’s for “Needs Improvement” in every area on his report card but at a recent conference with the teacher Summer was told that he is on track in everything. Of his earlier academic performance she believes he was simply a victim of circumstance and his time in the system.

Summer says their daughters have adjusted to having a brother, “really well.” Throughout the entire process, the couple kept their oldest daughter informed about what they were doing. As Isaiah was closer in age to her than her younger sister, the couple explained that their new brother would be more of her equal. They included her in events and explained the process to her as they went through it. Their daughter was so excited that she even kept her class posted, letting them know step by step everything that was going on as her family went through the process of getting to know and then adopting her brother.

At the mention of their family sounding “too perfect,” Summer laughs and says, “It’s not been perfect. There have been issues.” She says she and Leonard have handled each situation as they’ve come. When asked if she would recommend adoption to other families Summer says yes, but that she would tell them to make sure and get all the facts. “Ask questions. Make sure you’re educated. Make sure you’re family is a strong, united family,” she says.

Since Isaiah came into their lives, Summer has become "Information Central" for her co-workers who are considering adopting, noting they often approach her to ask how it works. When she tells people about the process they are often surprised. “It’s that easy?” they ask. Summer says she thinks the process worked great, noting it wasn’t always the way she wanted it to be, but it was worth it.

Summer believes her family has been blessed. While they knew things weren’t going to be “hunky dory,” they also knew they could handle whatever came along. She has told her husband “It’s sad, what Isaiah went through,” but that she believes “he was meant for us.”

Summer, Leonard, and their three children recently celebrated the one year anniversary of the day Isaiah was adopted. Summer notes the day is of particular importance to her because, “That’s the day I sat in the court room and they told me this is my son,” she says. “I love him. He is my kid.”

While the couple has talked about possibly adopting again someday, right now they want to focus on taking the best care possible of the three children they do have. “We saved one kid’s life,” Summer says.

She adds that she knows they can’t save everyone. “But we did something.

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