The time approached for Daniel's adoption to be finalized. We were beyond thrilled that the court would make final what we knew in our hearts: We were a forever family. As part of the normal process, we needed to schedule two more meetings with Veronica before adoption day – one at the Department of Human Services (DHS) and one at our home.
Foster parents don't have a lot of rights or privileges. But once the road is cleared for an adoption to be finalized, foster parents have quite a few more privileges, which include learning everything about the child they are about to adopt. So Veronica arranged a meeting with John and me at her DHS office so she could tell us things about Daniel's history that we didn't already know. She wanted to make sure we knew exactly what we were getting into and were fully committed. At this point, nothing would have changed our minds about adopting Daniel. This was simply a DHS formality from our perspective.
When we arrived at DHS on the day of the meeting, Veronica led us to a plain, small conference room with a round table and a few chairs. She told us to wait in the room while she went to get Daniel's file. Veronica returned a few minutes later carrying a stack of folders that completely filled her arms up to her chin and almost fell from her hands. How in the world could a 1-year-old have a file this big? I wondered.
I wouldn't have to wait long for my answer. Veronica explained that Daniel's birth mother had also been in foster care. His maternal grandmother had been connected "to the system" and had received some government services. The file was big because it contained generations of sadness. Sad choices. Sad outcomes. Sad people. The whole thing was just so sad.
We learned that both Daniel's birth mother and birth father did drugs – marijuana and crystal methamphetamines – and they had dropped out of high school. His birth father was known to child-welfare officials as a homeless street kid from a neighboring island who now lived in Waikiki on the streets.
Daniel's maternal uncle was a teenager and was in foster care. At the moment, however, he was missing after running away. Neither child-welfare officials nor his foster parents knew his whereabouts. Daniel's birth mother seemed to have disappeared; officials weren't able to contact her by phone or in person. They couldn't tell us any more about her current situation.
After that meeting, as John and I reflected on all the sadness in this family, we were grateful that God was going to break the generational cycle for our son, and we resolved to do everything in our power to help.
Veronica came to our house for our final meeting before the big court day. As she walked to the kitchen table to set out the last bit of paperwork we needed to complete, she bluntly told us a rather weighty piece of news: Daniel had a great-aunt on the Big Island. John and I stopped dead in our tracks.
"She wants to adopt Daniel," Veronica continued, never changing her inflection.
It was as if I'd been kicked in the stomach. I couldn't breathe. I grabbed my stomach and gasped. John was just frozen.
"But we talked through it," Veronica continued. "She's a foster parent, too, and she understands how awful it would be if someone took her little one from her. She doesn't want to hurt Daniel by taking him away from y'all, since he's settled and secure. She was glad he's in a good home and has a good future in front of him."
We wanted to give Veronica the biggest hug in the world. Just like that, as quickly as the fear had come, it was gone. Veronica had done what she believed was in Daniel's best interest. Of course, a judge had to concur, but the recommendations of DHS would hold significant sway in the process.
With relief, we signed the papers so that Daniel's adoption could be finalized.
When adoption day came, the joy was overwhelming. We arrived at the courthouse early, all dressed up.
Family court is an extremely dark and depressing place, filled with brokenness and despair. Divorce, child custody, child support, child abuse, domestic violence and termination of parental rights are daily staples. Adoption finalizations are a ray of light in this dark place, and everyone from the security guards to the court clerks and judges are usually happy to participate in this life-changing event. But we had a no-nonsense judge who walked us through the legal recitals and requirements and eventually banged her gavel declaring the adoption final, just 11 days after Daniel's first birthday.
It was over. The relief was hard to describe. We were now a family – officially. And we were a happy one! We loved being with Daniel as much as we could. We were amazed at how much we loved him, and, like all first-time parents, we wondered how we could ever love another child as much as we loved him.