Editor's Note: This is the second 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 first installment here!
As you may recall, the binder where I found my kids was the one for my local county. This was great news, because it meant less of a physical transition for them. Or so I thought.
What I found out, after my worker (Heather) connected with theirs (Amy), was that they actually lived in a little town about four hours away from my town. Even though the boys were wards of my county, Amy had, a couple of years earlier, found the best placement with Ms. Reed, a grandmotherly type who was doing foster care in a tiny—like, one-main-street tiny—town way down in the valley. So much for best-laid plans.
For the first visit, in early December, Heather and I made the four-hour drive together through the most boring landscape ever. Think post-apocalyptic brown hills, and throw in some nasty cow smell for spice. The visit itself was scheduled for an hour, which meant we were looking at an eight–to–one driving time–to–visit time ratio. Amy, who was also based in our town, made the drive separately—same scenery. Which means you had three adults, driving a total of sixteen hours, for this one-hour look at the kids.
But that's not the funny part. The funny part is: For your first visit, there's no commitment on anybody's part—you're just meeting. Because of this, the kids were not supposed to know who I was. Heather and I were going to be there as "Amy's friends."
What actually happened was this: That morning, before we arrived, the foster mom told the boys, "Your new dad is coming today." I should have known something was up—from the minute I got there, a supposed stranger, the boys seemed awfully happy to see me. In retrospect, I suppose this is better than them knowing who I was and being awfully unhappy to see me. I guess I owe Ms. Reed a belated thanks, even if she went outside the lines.
Anyway: On the appointed day, we showed up at the house. It was "rural California ordinary": two-car garage, manicured lawn, big open combo living/dining room with the most humongous TV I've ever seen (which, apparently, was on 24/7), three bedrooms off a hall to the right. The youngsters who lived there, however, were anything but ordinary. Two bundles of crazy-cute energy. One small, slim-featured, darker, gregarious. The other fairer, larger, broader, holding a little more in reserve.
The six of us sat in the dining room and chatted a bit. Then the boys and I went outside and played some wall dodgeball and Nerf football in the cul-de-sac next to the house. They cheated at both games blatantly and often—shades of things to come. I asked them questions about the important stuff: favorite TV shows, favorite sports and games, favorite foods, etc. They answered easily and pleasantly, with Mr. Gregarious mostly running the show. I learned the famous "Jellyfish Jelly Sandwich" song from Spongebob Squarepants—clearly, these guys were into high art. (They were also, later, into opening the car windows when I was driving and shouting out the windows, "Hey, man! You've got to try this sandwich!/It's no ordinary sandwich!/It's the tastiest sandwich in the sea.")
After our appointed hour, Heather and I drove home. So far, so good. No red flags.
The second trip, I went down by myself for the weekend—the drive–to–visit time ratio was getting better here. I stayed in a funky B and B about twenty minutes away from their town, with the idea that we would spend Saturday and Sunday afternoons together, getting them home in time for dinner. I remember two outings: one to an airplane museum, where we saw, you know, airplane stuff, and one to the movies. I think it was an animated Disney film called Treasure Planet, but all I really remember is that Mark got a headache and we had to leave about halfway through. Maybe a slightly pale pink flag? Did being around me make him sick?
I guess not, because we scheduled our next round of visits to coincide with the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Fortunately, the driving gods clearly decided I had done enough. Ms. Reed had an adult daughter who lived less than forty-five minutes from me. Ms. Reed and the boys were going to stay with the daughter for about two weeks over the holidays. On December 23, Heather called me to see if the boys could come by that afternoon and stay through the 26th—basically, instant family Christmas. Which was fine, except at that point, I didn't have anywhere for them to sleep. This resulted in my dear friend Aunt Leigh and I having a frantic, curse-filled IKEA bunk-bed-building speed-date. Who knew Swedes were so evil?
On this initial in-our-house visit, we had our first taste of family magic. Being a single dude cottage-dweller for many years prior, I didn't really do Christmas. I hadn't bought a tree in . . . well, maybe ever. I didn't have any decorations or lights, not even a stocking. On December 24 (after a good night's sleep in their new bed), the boys and I made the trek out to get some basics. The store where we bought the ornaments, tinsel, and other goodies had one tree left on the lot. They gave it to us for free.
Not a bad start.
I have a picture from that visit of the boys standing on my bed, waving—their heads not even touching the ceiling. (Our bedrooms have extremely low ceilings.) Given how enormous they are now, that picture, which has a permanent home on my fridge, is pretty much guaranteed to bring me as close to tears as my cold fish self gets. So much yet to come . . .
Anyway, I brought the kids back to the foster mom on December 26, and we repeated the cycle the next week: The boys came up just before New Year's and stayed with me through the holiday, and I drove them back to Ms. Reed a day or two later. This visit was apparently a bit less magical—no free trees, and my only clear memory is sending them to bed by 9:00 on New Year's Eve, because they were being such buttheads. As with most so-called crises through our time together, a few days later I couldn't even tell you what the problem was. It couldn't have been too bad, though, because ten days later, they were moving in.