Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of excerpts from Joseph Sadusky's new book, Magic Lessons: Celebratory and Cautionary Tales about Life as a (Single, Gay, Transracially Adoptive) Dad. The book contains many stories about my life as a dad, as well as lessons learned, and we're excited to share several excerpts from the the book over the course of the next few months. Read the entire series here.
I decided pretty early in my process that I wanted siblings, preferably boys. Siblings, because I figured that being adopted by a single gay guy might bring up plenty of stuff, so at least the kids would have each other to share the experience with. Also, a sibling set gave each kid a built-in playmate who—to the relief of both of us—would not always need to be me. Boys, because I was thinking ahead to puberty. I know my limits, and the idea of dealing with a teenage girl—or, worse, girls—made my hair stand on end and skin break out in a cold sweat. At least with boys, I could rely on the fact that I had once been a teenage boy. Which was basically a five-year nightmare—so if nothing else, it gave me a baseline for how to help my kids have an opposite-of-dad experience.
I finished all the requirements of my training, house upgrades, and home study/psychoanalysis by the end of October 2002. That's when the magic kicked in in a big way.
In mid-November, I went to the adoption agency office and sat in a room with a large conference table covered in binders. Each binder represented a California county, and inside each binder were (very brief, sketchy) profiles for all of the foster kids up for adoption in that county. The binders were divided into three sections: boys, girls, and siblings.
(There were other ways to look for or at kids at the time: websites, a community TV program, even picnics that gathered available foster children and invited prospective parents to meet, greet, and evaluate—sort of like adoption speed-dating. I couldn't even imagine walking through all of those kids in person and having to note "maybe them, or them, definitely not them," etc.—especially older kids who would know exactly what was going on. Binders seemed a lot safer.)
The rules for looking through the binders were simple. As you go through, you are to flag any potential matches with a post-it note. The agency worker then contacts the county worker for each of those kids or sibling sets and sends the worker a brief bio of the prospective parent (me).
After this point, the process is out of your hands. Each county worker makes a decision whether they think you (the prospective parent) are a good fit for the kid or kids in question. If so, the county worker replies to the agency worker and sets up a meeting. Again, similar to dating, it's basically a numbers game: If you want a match, flag lots of potential kids. There's no commitment at this point.
Back in the room, I took a deep breath and grabbed the binder for my own county. I ideally wanted local kids. This was based on the thinking that being adopted by a single gay guy might be enough of a major transition. I was hoping we could at least minimize the impact of the actual physical move.
OK, so I have my county binder, and I open to the siblings section. And there they were: my kids. They were the very first picture I saw, and I knew right away they were the ones. Yes, I'm typically one of those gut-instinct people. But this was gut instinct times infinity.
I flagged their page and probably could have called it a day right there. But being a trooper, I stayed for another hour or so doing my due diligence, flagging other possible candidates—including a few trios of two brothers and a sister. As I'll say more about later, I'm kind of programmed to play by the rules.
For most people, here's what normally happens next in the process: You wait a month, or two, or six. If you're lucky, calls trickle in from various county workers. For any given kid or kids, you set up an initial meeting with just you, your agency worker, and the county worker. This usually leads to two or three more meetings. Then, between the workers and the current foster parent, you work out an initial visit with the kids. Assuming the first one is a hit, you make any number of follow-up visits, gradually moving toward sleepovers and more extended stays. At some point, you and the kids are separately asked, "Do you want to make this permanent?" (The kid version is probably worded slightly differently. Unless the question is being asked of the foster-adopt version of Alfred Einstein—or Sherlock Einstein, as he was known in our house. More on that later, also.) If all parties say yes, you officially become a foster family on the road to adoption. This process generally takes about a year, although it's not uncommon for it to go to two years and beyond.
Here's what happened to the boys and me: The day after my post-it party at the office, my kids' county social worker, Amy, contacted my agency worker, Heather. The next week, we had our meeting. Within two weeks, we started visits.
I found out later that none of the other county workers ever bothered to call back.
Stay tuned for the next installment in Joseph Sadusky's series!