During our time of preparation to adopt, Deeanna made a very good suggestion.
"Well, Kelly, if you're going to be parents, you might want to get some practice. I know a baby boy in foster care who needs respite care," she said.
She went on to explain that the boy's foster mom was leaving the island on vacation and couldn't take him along. The foster mom needed someone to take care of him for a few days.
Hmm, practice, I thought. Not a bad idea.
To be honest, I didn't really think we'd need practice. This was a baby, right? How hard could it be to take care of a baby? Amazingly, I think John and I still had very unrealistic ideas about what it takes to be good parents – something I've noticed is quite common for couples without kids. After listening to "Focus on the Family" for years and hearing countless sermons on parenting, we were quite confident, thank you very much, that we would do quite well.
No, we would never be lax on discipline; we'd never issue countless empty threats without consequences; we'd never let our lives revolve unhealthily around our children's wants and desires. We would do things right from the start.
As I think of those early days, I just shake my head at our arrogance and thank God for His patience.
It was August, and we wouldn't be bringing a child home until the following spring according to our timetable, so we weren't in any hurry. But thankfully, even with our unfounded parenting confidence, we realized that we could, in fact, use the practice. Practice sounded sensible and logical. I called the foster mom, Debbie, mentioned that my friend Deeanna told me about her need, and offered to help.
She suggested I come to her home in Kaneohe on the other side of the island to meet her and the little guy, Daniel. She told me that he wasn't quite 6 months old and had been born with symptoms of crystal methamphetamine addiction. His birth mother was a teenager who had used drugs and alcohol during her pregnancy. This little guy, Debbie told me, screamed for hours on end, especially every time he was in a car.
She said he was receiving occupational and physical therapy because he was developmentally delayed in many areas. She also said that his doctor and state child-welfare officials were concerned about possible brain damage resulting from his birth mother's drug and alcohol use during pregnancy, so they had scheduled a brain scan to better understand the extent of the damage.
With Debbie's trip coming up soon, we made arrangements for my visit. I drove to Kaneohe, praising God for the beauty of the islands and for the chance to help this lady I didn't know.
I also had absolutely no idea what the Lord was about to do in our lives. In a word, I was oblivious.
'May I hold him?'
After some initial pleasantries, Debbie pointed to the middle of the living room and said rather flatly, "There he is."
He was unbelievably cute, with his brown eyes and brown skin. He was just lying there looking up at me.
"What's his ethnicity?" I asked, curious about what ethnic combination would produce such a gorgeous baby.
"He's Korean, Hawaiian, Filipino and Chinese," Debbie said.
"May I hold him?" I asked.
"Sure," she replied.
I was smitten with this little baby boy. I melted into baby talk and handled him as if he were porcelain. And as I held him close to my chest, he fell asleep on me, as if he were finally home where he belonged, with the mother he'd been waiting for.
His foster mom expressed great surprise that he fell asleep on me, and as he slept, I probed her to learn everything about him. It was as if the lawyer in me was cross-examining a witness. I needed to know every detail about the past, present and future plans for this boy.
At the end of our visit, I learned that this boy sleeping on my chest needed a "forever family." His foster mom seemed very conflicted about not being able to adopt him, which felt awkward for me because now I found myself desperately wanting this little guy whom she seemed to want, too. Debbie had several birth children, including two teenage girls and another baby boy from foster care whom she was planning to adopt.
She felt that Daniel needed to be with a family that had more time to devote to his special needs. She also felt she wouldn't be able to give him the attention he deserved, even though she cared about him.
While Debbie was talking, something awakened in my heart in a dramatic and inexplicable way. This little baby boy was vulnerable and alone, and his future was uncertain. I wanted to fix all that. This sleeping, beautiful boy whose heart was beating next to mine became my child in my heart and mind.
Of course, I was fully aware that these feelings meant absolutely nothing in legal terms. Even though Daniel's birth parents didn't seem to be in the picture, I knew they had legal rights until the courts officially terminated them. I also knew that child-welfare officials were in charge of Daniel's care and might have plans of their own for him.
I didn't want to leave Daniel, and he whimpered a little when I did. I told Debbie I would call her that night about the respite. I also let her know that if Daniel needed a family, John and I wanted to be that family. I lobbied her to put in a good word for us with the social worker. (I was an officially registered lobbyist, after all.) I thought that would help since she had just witnessed how quickly Daniel and I bonded.
When I got to the car, I called Deeanna even before calling John. I told her I loved this baby and wanted to be his mother. We discovered through conversation that his social worker, who would make the decisions about his future, was someone Deeanna knew quite well. I begged her to put in a good word for us, and she agreed. She also gave me the social worker's name and number and told me to call her right away because we didn't know what plans might already be in the works for baby Daniel.
Next I called John.
"Honey, I think I just met our son," I said, absolutely giddy.
"Tell me, tell me," John insisted.
"Daniel is so delicious, and he needs a family. He just slept in my arms. We really bonded. I can't wait for you to meet him."
"I'm in. When can I meet him? I can't believe this is happening! He might be the reason why we've been getting ready!" John's excitement only fueled my own enthusiasm. Our ninth wedding anniversary was coming up in two days, and we made plans to visit baby Daniel on that day.