Siena came to our house the day before her second birthday.
We had a cake coated with sweet, sticky frosting that I had picked up from Stop and Shop in a frenzied trip with my heart beating wildly in chest, clutching her small hand in mine. The first two days I could not quell the constant beating of my heart, like it was a giant bass drum in a tunnel.
When I sat down at the table festooned with paper birthday hats, my heart stopped short. I was awash with feeling like I had no right to assume my place at the table. Nothing could have made me feel more like an imposter than sitting next to her with glee plastered on two grandparents’ faces, frosting on our lips. She looked at me with cold skepticism. Of course she did. No matter how much training you receive, and no matter the age of the child, kids adopted from foster care have the right to distrust you at first. Especially when you sing them happy birthday two days after they have just said goodbye to their last caregiver.
We had been waiting for many years to find the right match. We had, in fact, resigned ourselves to not being matched and had given away all the furniture, which had cluttered our basement since Dash was small. He was already looking towards double digits. Stuff I had saved for years planning on adopting a second child.
I had posted pictures of a bright blue and orange Polisport Guppy bike seat and a set of rusting training wheels, a pogo stick, a toddler bed with dings on its espresso paint, a pint-sized bench, and a neon orange plastic outdoor slide on craigslist. Within a day, a man whose wife was about to go into labor had bought the whole lot for fifty dollars. He was very cheerful, aglow with the expectation of becoming a new father, when he came in a Volvo station wagon. As he drove away, and I gazed at the play structure bungee corded out the back, in my heart I realized that I had come to terms with not adopting, not adding a second child to our home
The next day, our social worker, who had spent four years fielding my inquiries, called on the phone. She said that her colleague in Brockton had selected our Homestudy for a twenty-three month old girl in good health. The little girl had had a number of very difficult experiences and disruptions in her short life but she seemed, according to her folder, to be resilient.
A week later, I went to visit Siena for the first time.
She toddled in on chubby legs clutching a puppy purse, a layer of fine peach fuzz across the top of her head the color of a mango. Love at first has this surreal quality. It fells you like a lightning bolt but then other times you realize that you don’t know the person you already love and your parental joy is immediately humbled by the journey that they have taken to be in your family. It is a great privilege to parent a child whose life experience has been already harder than your own ever was.
Joe and then Dash and then even my mom each came with me on subsequent visits. On our fourth visit, the Social worker left for us to take her to a playground by ourselves. Dash was the only one who acted normal. Joe and I acted like we had been given the opportunity to dine with Benjamin Franklin or the Pope. We had an awe for her that made thinking of parenting her seem outlandish.
I picked her up for keeps on a hot day at the zenith of summer from the DCF office. She was not legally free for adoption so we would be technically fostering her. The Social workers assured us that they had no reason to believe we wouldn’t be adopting her and that her adoption plan looked all but made legal by the Court. For whatever reason, I trusted them completely. I never doubted that she would be our daughter. She would spend almost a year with us before we officially adopted her, a month before her third birthday and the whole time I never feared losing her.
She had been removed at a year and had lived in two homes before landing in an intensive foster family’s home where she had thrived for eight months. The foster mom texted me bits of advice like “she loves the bath and will want to stay in it forever. Just start draining the water when it’s time to brush teeth.” Or “her toy Chihuahua’s name is Eddie.” That last one saved us from a nightly routine of crying when I insisted on calling the dog Emmy the Chihuahua. In my defense, when she said “Eddie” it did sound like “Emmy.” Once I got the text with the dog’s correct name, I ran in yelling “his name is Eddie!” and she looked at me witheringly, the same look that she gave on her birthday.
When friends met her during these early days, more than one remarked that this kid is determined to have a good life. Part of her strength is in knowing not to give away too much too soon. If you adopt a child who does not immediately seem to accept you as a parent, understand that this is a coping mechanism and a good one. It means the child has good boundaries.
Our son Dash was involved in the adoption process from the beginning.
I never regretted having him be a part of the adoption process. He softened these moments, when she seemed to keep us at a distance, rounded out their edges with his ability to translate across our forty-five years of age and experiential difference.
As soon as he met his sister, he was fully ready to be a big brother. When we got the call in June of 2014 to confirm our finalization date, it fell when Dash was planning to be at summer camp in the Berkshires. When we went to pick him up from summer camp, three weeks after she had transitioned into our house, I heard him bellow from his bunk, “where is my sister?” before barreling down the hill to greet her. He immediately showed her the secret greeting (high five, fist bump, pat on the head) that he had planned for her. And they have since greeted each other this way. Unlike us, they have never had any air between them; their love has always flowed as naturally as the mountain stream that ran through his camp.
Two years later, it’s hard to even remember these early days of rollicking emotions.
It would be impossible to describe how miraculous our adoption has been.
When the subject of birth ever comes up, Siena announces that Dash came from my belly and she came from my heart. I am not someone who is normally comfortable with the saying that things happen for a reason, or something was meant to be. I am more cynical than that, believing that most things happen because of a set of actions. But, in this case, I fully believe that our match was meant to be. She came straight from my heart. I look at her now, a head of bouncing tiny braids, as she sings out a song she has made up, and it is exactly as if my heart is walking around outside my body.
About the Family
We are a family of four living in Massachusetts with one adopted daughter, one biological son and more than the recommended number of animals, including a cairn terrier who is a stellar soccer player. Reva is a middle-school teacher and a writer. As a family, we enjoy hiking on the beach, eating locally, and balancing our busy lives in a small town with traveling to big cities.