13 Feb Adoption Does Work: The Back Story
Adoption Does Work: The Back Story
The start of every adoption story is the story behind the story—the back story. The back story of an adoption does not happen in a vacuum because it’s not one story. It’s the combined life stories of the adoptive parent or parents and their families and each biological parent and their families and the child. Life stories merge together and new chapters are created when we adopt. Jessica’s adoption story didn’t begin when she was placed in Foster Care or when she was placed with our family or on her Adoption Day. It started years before…
The Drive In Movie
Drive In Movie Theaters are a thing of the past. This is unfortunate because the Drive In was the place where everyone in town went to hang out on Friday and Saturday nights. Yes—Think the movie Grease. If you attended as a family, you watched the movie. If you were a teenager, chances are you did more “Making Out” than movie watching.
If you don’t remember Drive Ins, or have never seen the movie Grease, picture a big parking lot with a huge outdoor movie screen. Each parking spot had a metal pole with a speaker attached. This speaker was fitted with a long cable so that you could lift the speaker off the pole and hook it on the inside of your car window. Cars were parked so close together that you could hear the sound coming from every speaker, and many times, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g else that was going on inside the cars on both sides of you. Surround sound before surround sound. And, as Tina Turner sings, Steamy Windows. In my neighborhood, the place to go was the Oak Drive In on Normandy Road.
The Forbidden Oak
When I looked out of my bedroom window I could see the very top of the movie screen at the Oak Drive In. I spent many nights looking out my window and squinting my eyes to try and see what was on the screen. I was always disappointed because I could not see much of anything. On the 4th of July, my family, along with every other family on our block, would sit in our backyards and watch the fireworks provided by the Oak. Oh, how I wished that my parents would take me there to see a movie. But it wasn’t to be. Due to strict religious rules—no smoking, drinking, dancing or movies—my backyard was as close as I got to the Forbidden Oak. That is until Donald came into my life. He was seventeen years old and I was sixteen years old.
Guess where went on our first date? You guessed right. The forbidden Oak. After I got in his car he asked me if I had any ideas about what we should do? I didn’t have any—so he suggested the Oak Drive In. I was astonished! I was thrilled. Even though his parents attended the same church that my family attended, he apparently did not have the same house rules. Surprised as I was, I was not going to ask questions. I was not going to turn down a chance to see a movie at the Oak Drive In. As a side note, I later learned that he was not supposed to be going to see movies either—but by this time it was too late—we had already become two rebellious—and totally loving it, movie watching people—on the sly.
The Conversation That Changed Everything
We didn’t watch the movie that night—and we didn’t make out. We talked and talked. In fact, the conversation that night set the course for our relationship, our marriage in 1974, our decision to become foster parents in 1991 and to shortly thereafter adopt Jessica.
Donald shared his life story with me. As his story unfolded every emotion inside of me came alive with conflicting feelings. We could have talked all night. Instead, for the sake of future dates, he had me home in time for my 11:00 pm curfew. However, I was too wound up to sleep—and I had a lot of questions. So, what does one do when her head and heart are ready to explode and she want answers? She wakes her parents up and jumps in bed with them and talks and talks and talks… And, she asks so many questions that they forget to ask her where she went that night.
What Did My Parents Know?
My parents and his parents were members of the same church denomination. My Auntie Eleanor was in the same youth group growing up as Donald’s father. We were now attending the same church. Because of this church connection, my parents knew his parents and I wanted to know what they knew. Did they know that Donald was adopted? Did they know that he had been in Foster Care? Most importantly, why hadn’t anyone ever told me that there was such a thing as Foster Care?
First Things First
One of the first things that Donald told me about his life was that he had been placed in Foster Care as an infant or toddler—he wasn’t sure when because his foster home was the only home he remembered before his adoption. He remained in Foster Care until he was adopted when he was almost five years old. Unfortunately, his time in Foster Care was an emotionally confusing time because it was laced with physical abuse—smacks on the side of the head. Abuse that resulted in hearing loss in his left ear and almost complete deafness in his right ear. I was shocked—and deeply saddened.
Donald believed that his foster parents were his grandparents—and that he would live with them forever. A few quick visits with his adoptive mom, a stranger, changed everything. Unfortunately, even though he really wasn’t sure who this new lady was and why he had to move to a different house and live with her—off he went to live with her. He remembered one brief visit with his adopted father before this move—this left him more confused and wondering if this new man could be trusted. By this time, I was crying and wondering—what were these adults thinking? No explaining—or was Donald too frightened to hear what was being said and to process it. Either way, they failed him. As young as I was, I knew that this was a horrible way to treat a child and that there had to better ways to help a child make a healthy transition to a new family.
For Donald, the next emotional blow came when he was told, before he had a chance to settle in at his new house, that his name was no longer Norman, it was now Donald—after one of their friends. Identity stripping that added more fear and confusion. Whatever explanation was given to him did not offset the emotional feedback to himself, as he interpreted it, that he was less than and his name was not even right. He thought that there was something wrong with him. Again, I wondered what on earth were the adults in his life thinking. I get it that he was remembering this through the eyes of a child—however, perception is reality. This is how he remembered this time in his life.
My Sheltered Life
Adoption I understood. However, until our first date, I had never heard of Foster Care or physical abuse or anyone changing a child’s name without considering the any negative emotional impact on the child. My heart broke. I was ready to save every child that needed saving. Additionally, I respected Donald because he was up front about the desire of his heart which was to make a positive difference in other children’s lives by becoming a Foster Parent himself one day. He made it perfectly clear that he did not want to waste his time dating anyone who did not share this same life vision.
The God Thing
I appreciated his honesty. And frankly, foster parenting was not a problem because I already knew that I was going to marry him. A knowing that God planted in my heart the first time I met him at church a few weeks before our date—but the type of knowing that you can’t tell anyone about because you don’t want to get the reputation of being a nut. Did I ever tell Donald? Yes. But not until my knowing was confirmed over time. I waited to tell him until after we had decided to get married. We dated for four years and we were married on August 24, 1974.
The Search For Answers
Years later, after the birth of our biological son Andy, and just a few years before Donald’s death, we did an adoption search through the county that we lived in at that time. The county worker, who was not supposed to get involved, got involved and swore us to secrecy. In Donald’s case, it was difficult to obtain records because, frankly, Detroit MI record keeping system, at that time, was in disarray. But she did her best and we sincerely appreciated her effort. This same county worker also contacted a birth family member, but the invitation to move forward and meet was declined. Donald, was disappointed. However, the worker provided us with the limited information that she could locate, minus the birth family members telephone number—and left Donald with a very important truth—there are times when things are better left alone.
Of interest is that Donald’s adoptive mother was a social worker. In fact, it was her work connections that led to his adoption. She knew his life story. However, both of his parents refused to talk about his biological parents or family situation, his Foster Care experience and his adoption with him. This refusal, of course, left Donald with even more questions—and a lot of unresolved loss and grief related emotions. More on this later.
I also want to make the point that there are good Foster Parents. However, the system is even more broken now and unfortunately, there are still people who have been licensed as Foster Parents who should not be. Additionally, there are social workers, etc., who are excellent and there are others who, frankly, should get the boot. More on this later, too.
An Incident At The Forbidden Oak
A funny Forbidden Oak memory comes to my mind. One time, when we were on a date at the Oak, for reasons that I don’t remember—I was sitting in the driver’s seat. Somehow I accidentally knocked the stick shift with my arm and my foot pressed down on the accelerator at the same time. Yes, the car was running—and no, I still don’t know how to drive a stick. The car jumped backwards ripping the speaker from the pole. Donald yelled, leaned over me and pushed down on the brake with his hand. The car came halted to a stop. The speaker was in my lap. It had ripped off pole and the long cord was dangling out the car window. And, the outside driver’s side door panel had a big dent in it. I was sooooo embarrassed.
We didn’t know what to do. Should we take the speaker to the office? What would they do with us? We panicked. Lack of life skills prevailed. We headed to my parents’ house—with the speaker and the dangling cord. When we got to the house I quietly opened the garage door and went inside and hid the speaker on the back of a shelf that had a lot of stuff on it. It stayed there for a few months, unnoticed and forgotten. That is until spring arrived and my father decided to completely clean out the garage. I don’t know why my name came up first and not my sisters—because I understood that I was not supposed to be going to the movies—let alone the Drive In…