Category Archives: Foster-Adopt

About Alonso

I haven’t written in a long time but I’m still thinking. Sometimes I get ready to write, then I get discouraged, or busy, and I just don’t bother. Sometimes I lose those thoughts and sometimes they stick around. I’m not going to rehash anything for you right now from the last few months because today I want to talk about an experience from yesterday.

His name is not Alonso, but I changed his name for this post in order to protect his identity. His name could have been Alonso, so we’ll just leave it there.

I only had about 15 minutes to meet with Alonso yesterday. I had never met him before, and it was not a planned meeting. Nevertheless, it was a great meeting and something that I’ll be thinking about for some time.

Alonso walked into the waiting area at a local county human services building along with his older sister and some social workers buzzing about. A large boy for his age (about 12?) with a bright smile and interested eyes. He stood next to me for a moment without making eye contact as he took in the news that he might be able to see his mom for 3 hours today instead of the planned 2 1/2. Alonso celebrated with a dance and a shout while his sister sat down across from us – seeming unaffected.

After a moment passed, I told Alonso that he could sit next to me (it was the only empty seat in the room and a small seat, and somewhat obstructed by my width). He smiled at me and sat, and began playing with his toothpick and balsa wood sailboats that he had built and painted earlier that afternoon. Then after everyone left the room except my wife, our current foster kids, his sister, Alonso and I – they both began asking us questions about our current placement (some very young twin boys that were sitting in our laps).

Somewhat to his sister’s chagrin, Alonso was an open book waiting to be read. I didn’t have to dig at all for him to start talking. I struck up a conversation with him – first about my foster kids – and later about himself. I hadn’t really even asked, but he seemed to really want to tell me. I spent some time listening to Alonso relate about the people in his life who had lied to him about things – both big things and little things – and the people who kept their word and how important that was to him. At one point he was telling me how much he likes his CASA worker by describing her as “She said specifically she would take us to the movies on this day… and she wrote it down in her book… and then she actually did it!”.

Alonso also recounted to me how much he appreciated it when people didn’t sugar-coat his situation. He used that exact phrase, “sugar coat”, in appreciation of his assigned GAL (Guardian Ad Litem – an attorney assigned by the courts to represent children in the system in court and other legal matters as their temporary legal guardian.) He said “she always tells me what’s actually happening, not only what she wants to tell me to get me to do something.” All I could think was… Wow.

Alonso told me about the facility that he and his sister lived in for far too many months before “they could find a house for us to live in” (Foster home). It wasn’t a bad facility from his description of it, but it certainly wasn’t home. He was concerned that our babies didn’t have a home yet and so I was able to tell him that they were living in our home and hadn’t had to spend any time in a group home or facility. Alonso was very relieved. “I hate it when they take babies from their moms like that”, he said. I didn’t correct him or tell him he was wrong. Alonso was right, after all, in the best world children would always belong with their loving, caring, nurturing and capable biological parents. It’s a function of our broken world that we need Foster parents at all. I said “I hate that too.”

What really struck me about Alonso was his honesty and kindness. Here he had been yanked from his home (probably for good reason!) and forced to live in a facility – not of his choosing – while hoping that maybe someone would care enough about him to give him a house (not of his choosing) to sleep in at night.  Here was Alonso picking and choosing which of his case assigned members of the social services system he could decide that he likes or not based on whether or not they were honest with him. He was exercising the only control he had over the situation.

As a jaded adult, I don’t think I would have been so kind, so compassionate, so concerned about others (such as the babies in our laps) or so open to talking to complete strangers.

I could tell you a lot more about Alonso’s life – including a few times when his Sister shushed and scolded him for telling me things that even Alonso apparently wasn’t supposed to know but had over-heard from conversations.  I could, but telling you those things would risk his safety, his identity, and take away from the point of this blog post.

I thought a lot about my own 6th-grade son last night and this morning after my conversation with Alonso as well as the other 6th-grade boys that I know. None of them know his suffering. I wonder if he gets picked-on at school by other students or by teachers. I wonder if they think he’s a problem because he can’t relate. I bet they do. For many years now, Alonso has been treated as a problem. Maybe not directly, but think about it from his perspective. Something happens and he’s the one being removed, the one living in a facility, the one begging to see his mom, the one struggling through jealousy and everyone else’s “regular life” happening around him.

There’s a lot I’ll take away from this experience, some of which I already knew and perhaps needed to be reminded of or reinforced in importance… and some things I didn’t know – like how difficult it is for an older kid to secure a foster home because there just aren’t enough.

To you my reader, I won’t tell you what to take home from this personally but rather pray right now that God reveals a message in your heart through Alonso. If anything is revealed to you, would you please tell me about it?  I’ll be asking for the same for myself.

Thanks!

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Giggling Hope

Hadden

Today is Hadden Alexander’s adoption day.  It is a day filled with hope, excitement, fear, love, and anticipation.  It’s one of those days where you wake up and your stomach is in knots before your thoughts even realize the world, but deep inside you know that they are good knots.  Good like the kind of knots that hold your shoes together or keep a family from separating even when they pull in different directions.

Hadden is my Hope Personified.  As he is now ours forever, I can finally share his story out loud – and with it- I pray – the same great Joy and Hope that our family and close friends have had with him for the last 17 months.

Hadden’s story is not his origin but it includes that tale.  To experience the full Hope of his situation you have to be able to respect his beginning – but I warn you – do not judge or pity him on this.

Hadden arrived crying into our home in June of 2012 at 4-months of age, a ward of the State of Colorado.  Hadden (whom at that time had a different name) was barely an average birth weight.  He had broken bones in various stages of healing throughout his little body.  He had multiple documented forms of brain damage from physical trauma.  His little arm was in a cast and we could only guess that all he had really known was pain during his first few months of life.  Perhaps there was fleeting comfort and joy, I hope.  It was deeply tragic, and there were times when we were not sure how long we could endure it.

For the first few weeks in our family, Hadden was least upset (but never happy) when left him completely undisturbed in a dark room with white noise. My relentlessly empowered wife took him to what seemed like hundreds of doctor and specialist appointments all over town for his myriad of medical complications.  She spent hours on the phone expertly navigating the various child support services systems of our locale. Among many great things, she secured – not one or two – but five different professional therapists to visit him weekly and help us with his needs.

Conversations in Foster placement often turn to permanency expectations and my wife and I had expressed previously that after 7 years of foster care, we had always wanted to adopt (that doesn’t mean that we’re done!).  We had no expectation of adopting Hadden at that time. Just in consideration of those discussions – many doctors and medical experts tried very hard to “break it to us” that he wouldn’t be “normal” at all and might be a very difficult child to have for the rest of his life.  Nobody in our family is “normal”, thank God.

Random and well-intentioned comments often sounded something like “You know, he could wind up as a vegetable”.  Or maybe a little less bleak such as “You guys should know that he’s going to need a lot of help for a long time.”

Many professionals just remained silent on this issue.  We preferred this and often attempted to steer conversations in this way.

One doctor stands sovereign in my memory, except I wish I remembered his name.  He was an older experienced neurosurgeon who visited us at the hospital.  I can’t remember if it was the day we took him home or on a subsequent visit, but for some reason I was along for this particular trip. With a thick German accent and an unusually kind and warm personality he said “You know, these babies… (trailing off for an uncomfortably long time as he tried to decide which English words to use).. their brains at this age are like plastic.  They are mold-able.  They can change.”

At the time I just sort-of smiled at him and nodded.

It took me a few days to realize what he had done and a few weeks and months to experience the fullness of the light that one simple remark had produced.  The doctor had made a deposit in us of Hope.  Then God through his work within my wife and I took hold of that deposit, spread it out, and gave it eternal dividends on our accounts of dedication, patience, persistence, and love.  It was a real gift.  A great, great gift.

Hadden2

Through months upon months of visitations with his sweet but broken mother.  Through endless sleepless nights and hours of tedious days of more and more medical visits, therapy appointments, and just plain hard work and Love.  The vision of Hadden as a permanent part of our life slowly became clearer.  I’m a terrible cynic and my wife and I had been jaded enough by our previous experiences with the social system that we held-down hope for months to a quietly managed simmer. I think that we knew even then though that he should be ours.  I honestly feel as though he was always meant to be a very important part of our family.

As Hadden’s conditions improved and his now inextinguishable joy pushed through his pain, he continued (and continues) to touch many in a special and deep place.  He touched my wife and I in our cynical bruised hearts during one of the hardest spiritual times of our lives and in a way that can only be described as an unmovable Rock of Hope, somehow physically evident in a tiny baby boy.  He touched our older sons to discover a nurturing, protecting, and playful brotherly spirit that they never quite gained simply being with one-another.  He touched our close friends who understood small parts of his story and had/have a cheer-leading front row seat to his obvious transformation.  My wife and I even watched as Hadden touched the hearts of deeply jaded child welfare system workers who came in and out of his life in a unique way.

There’s something special about Hadden’s unique Joy.  My wife once described it out loud as “Every day that Hadden isn’t in pain, is a good day for Hadden.”  I think she’s right, but I think there’s even more to it than that.  I’ve watched as people who don’t even know Hadden and have no idea where he came from find themselves suddenly fully enveloped by this bright glowing aura of Joy that seems to just shine out of his big brown eyes and bright and airy smile.

To say nothing of his physical and developmental advances – Hadden is still technically “behind” but the growth we’ve seen over just the last few weeks has been a real miracle.  His future is bright!

We are so blessed today to welcome Hadden as a legally defined member of the Ott family.  He is my Giggling, Personified, Tangible, Eternal Hope. He is the message of Jesus in the flesh.  In a tiny package, Hadden is the explosive power of non-terminating exponential Joy in spite of the indisputably broken situation that began his life.  What an honor it is that God chose us to care for this miracle and bring him up to be a visible icon for all.

I cannot fathom for a moment why it is that we were chosen, but Wow!  I feel today like we were given a billion dollars to do anything with that we want and it’s completely up to us what we do with it.  It’s totally insane.  It’s a gift of divine Grace.  It’s a tangible fulfillment of Mercy.  It is Giggling Hope.

Hadden and Boys