Family Spotlight: Raul & Mark
Raul Prezas and Mark Simmons were the only gay couple in the room at the pre-adoption class required by the state of Texas.
After the class, a social worker pulled them aside, singling them out from the other twenty or so couples.
Although they were seeking to adopt right away, the social worker urged them to pursue foster parenting first, as a way to build credibility with adoption agencies in the conservative state.
Foster parenting was not the course Raul and Mark had wanted to take; they’d spent ten years building a life together, preparing to adopt kids as they decided to do when they first began dating.
Raul had recently finished his PhD and begun to establish his career. Mark, who had operated a daycare before moving to Texas, would be a stay-at-home dad. They had a spacious, clean home. In every way, they felt ready to adopt.
Four years later, though, after fostering eleven children and adopting four, the couple is grateful for the parenting crash-course fostering gave them.
“I would recommend fostering first when one can,” says Raul. “You’re just getting so much knowledge of how you are as parents and how you work with children.”
They knew they’d have to work harder than heterosexual couples to be selected for adoption, and the couple believes fostering gave them an edge when competing to be selected later on.
“We didn't change who we were, we just felt in the back of our mind that we had to prove our worth as potential parents,” says Raul. “For us, on paper, for social workers to consider us for placement for kids, it really helped. I think it helped us in our pursuit of our forever family.”
Just as soon as they were licensed to foster-adopt, Raul received a phone call at work from the foster care agency. In mere minutes, he had to make a huge decision: Would he and Mark be willing to foster five children—one of them a three-day-old baby?
He said yes. The social worker replied that the four older children (aged three to eight) would arrive at their house in two hours.
Raul called Mark at home. “As soon as I got off the phone, I was at Wal-Mart buying diapers,” says Mark. Not quite sure how to shop for a baby and four young kids, he asked the advice of an employee. He entered the check-out line with an overflowing cart.
It all happened fast, but the couple had planned for this: they’d agreed in advance that Raul would accept almost any offer from the foster agency on the spot, which would greatly increase their chances of being selected.
“We understood that there was no knowing what would walk in the door but when they did walk in the door, our eyes lit up as big as theirs,” says Mark. “We knew we could make it work.”
The next morning, Mark stayed at home with the kids while Raul went to the hospital to pick up their baby brother. Raul waited while the birth mother—who lost custody of her children when drugs were detected in the baby’s system—said goodbye.
“I was so overwhelmed,” he says. “It was just kind of all at once. Most people have nine months to prepare for this, but we really had 24 hours.”
Just like that, they were a family of seven, which posed some practical challenges. “On the third day, we were out shopping for vans,” Mark recalls with a chuckle.
Mark and Raul raised the children for just over a year. A few days after the baby’s first birthday, they learned the children would be split up and placed with relatives of their birth mother. Though they’d always known foster parenting comes with no guarantees, nothing could have prepared them for the loss.
“It was one of the most difficult things we have ever been through,” says Raul. Just as suddenly as their house had filled with children, it once again grew quiet.
“It was a little too quiet for a while,” recalls Mark, who for an entire year had spent his days staying home with the younger children.
In their grief, the couple removed their names from the list of available foster homes and planned to wait six months before trying again. But through a glitch, they still received a call a few weeks later, just before Christmas.
“For a second, we thought they would say the five would come back. That’s the only reason we answered the phone,” Raul says. Instead, the agency asked them to foster a brother and sister, 12 and 13 years old, through the holidays.
“We couldn’t say no,” he says.
That placement was as much a gift to Raul and Mark as to the children—it was just what they needed to help them heal from the grief of losing their five foster children. Though the teens’ stay with them would be temporary, Raul and Mark began searching the Texas database of adoption-ready children.
Shortly after Christmas of 2012, they submitted a request to adopt four young kids. Through a tough selection process including screening, interviews and visits with the children, Raul and Mark became foster parents to Colin, 10, Stefan 9, Aiden, 7, and Elena, 6.
Meeting them for the first time was nerve-wracking. The couple drove five hours to the children’s foster home to surprise them after school. “We were nervous. I remember we bought a bunch of little things in baskets or bags to give them.”
The kids came home, saw a car in the driveway and ran to the door.
“I had to hold back tears, it was so exciting,” says Raul. Several visits and a handful of overnight stays later, the kids were approved to move into Raul and Mark’s home—the process expedited because the children were as enthusiastic and ready for the change as they were.
Before even meeting his new parents, Colin’s counselor asked him how he felt about having two dads. “He didn’t care if it was two dads,” Raul recalls the counselor telling him. “He was just so excited that someone wanted him.”
The couple had been warned in foster care training that it could take a couple of months for the kids to start displaying their true personalities—including negative behaviors. Instead, they were an instant family.
“I think our honeymoon phase lasted a week. And that was a good thing,” says Raul. “The kids really came out of their shells.”
Aiden, who was extremely quiet and shy, completely transformed. “He’s just open and free.”
Five and a half months later, on Raul’s 33rd birthday, they became a “forever family.” That was two years ago – September 19 was the anniversary of their adoption day.
“[The kids] always say, ‘I’m so happy you adopted us,’ and I never grow tired of hearing those words,” Raul says.
Mark adds: “And we tell them, ‘We’re happy you adopted us, too!'”