When Isaac came home as a sixteen-month-old foster child, Laurie, and I quickly had to accept that whatever happened prior to him coming to us would remain a mystery. Although we closely examined every court document and affidavit we received, we only learned names of his birthmother and his biological siblings and some of their mistakes.
At first, we wanted to know Isaac’s history in order to better parent him and explain some of his behavior. But we made do with the resources we had. We read books on toddler adoption, got involved with other foster and adoptive parents, and sought advice from doctors, play therapists, and behavioral specialists. After only a few months in our home, Isaac quickly bonded with us and caught up on his development.
Then our curiosity shifted and we wanted to provide him some background for his own sake. In our foster and adoptive parents’ playgroups and support groups, parents shared stories about their children asking about their birthparents. Some kids grieved the loss of their former family while other children couldn’t have cared less. Laurie and I knew that a relationship with Isaac’s birth family was unrealistic. But we wished we had some pictures or maybe even a letter or a card – something that would make them real people rather than simply names on pages of official court documents.
Nevertheless, Laurie and I made our peace with the mystery of Isaac’s birth family. We adopted him just after his second birthday and his baby sister, Vivianna, was born four months later. As we developed an open adoption with Vivi’s birthmother, Laurie and I prepared ourselves for any potential questions or grief Isaac might have watching his sister look at pictures, read cards, and even play with birthday and Christmas presents from her birth family. We expected this to one day bother Isaac. But what we did not expect was the phone call we got from his former CPS worker on a warm morning in June of this year, informing us that Isaac has a younger brother who had just entered foster care.
“We want to place him with you as a kinship placement,” the caseworker said.
Laurie called me at work to tell me. “I told her I’d have to talk to you,” she told me.
It took me less than two seconds to say absolutely. “I told the caseworker you’d immediately say yes,” she said. “But can you believe it? Isaac has a little brother!”
Laurie called the caseworker back and learned that J had been in foster care for just over a week and that he and his birthmother had already had one visitation meeting. Moreover, the caseworker had supervised the meeting and took pictures of J and the birthmother he shared with Isaac.
When I got home that night, I sat at the computer and watched the slideshow with Laurie sitting next to me. I saw little two-year-old J playing a toy piano in baggy blue clothes. His skin complexion and forehead matched Isaac. “That’s him?” I said to Laurie. She nodded.
I clicked on the next picture and saw a woman feeding him out of a fast food bag. “That’s her?” I said to Laurie. She nodded.
The next few weeks crawled by. J’s team of caseworkers required a home study on us before he could be placed with us, which took two additional weeks to approve. Finally, six weeks after entering foster care, the caseworker brought Isaac’s two-year-old brother to our home.
Friends donated a bunk bed for the boys to share, which they loved almost immediately. In fact, I had to forbid use of the ladder within five minutes of assembling it.
J adapted to our routine quickly. He ate nearly everything we put on his plate and slept soundly. He had a limited vocabulary, which developed quickly under the influence of an older brother and sister. Both Isaac and Vivi accepted him immediately, with Vivi telling everyone within earshot, “He baby brudder.” She followed him around the house all day asking him, “You come play in my room?” At three years old, she’s only nine months older than he and they make a great pair. She suggested her favorite games – princess dolls and makeup – and he complied unconditionally.
Meanwhile, Isaac accepted his role as the protective big brother. He worked diligently to teach J the word “gentle.” From the other side of the house, we heard Isaac shout, “No, J. Gentle with the dogs” or “gentle with Vivi’s hair.” Then, as Vivi rushed to tattle on him, Isaac shouted, “No, Vivi. Don’t tell Mom and Dad.” We thought it’s sweet that Isaac didn’t want him to get in trouble.
People often asked us whether we’re going to adopt J. When we said we hope so, their follow-up question was, “Aren’t you afraid of the effect it might have on the kids if he leaves?”
It’s a legitimate question, one their mother and I took very seriously. Ultimately, even if we knew he wouldn’t stay with us permanently, we still never could have turned him away. He is our family too. If he leaves, we’ll be devastated and mourn losing him and what could have been. Then, once time has passed, we’ll look back on the time we spent with J and the pictures we have of Isaac’s birthmother and brother and find comfort that at least we have that.
On the other hand, if we do get to adopt him, then one day Laurie and I will have a great story to tell. We’ll share with the boys that we were told their birthmother was thrilled when she found out they had been united.
J came home almost a month ago. So we have no idea what’s going to happen to him in the long term. But we’re grateful for the memories we got to build with J in our lives, moments like Isaac’s first day of kindergarten with us, Isaac’s sixth birthday. We had spent years praying for a letter or a photo from his birth family. We didn’t expect we’d get another son.