Tag Archive: adoption

Five Cats


20160604_143655We never intended to have five cats. Rob and I had plans and ideals, and one of those was that the perfect number of feline pets was two. They would groom each other and keep each other company, but not overburden their humans with litter box odor or food costs. We agreed that, as the cats aged, it would be acceptable to add a third pet, a kitten who would keep the older felines on their toes, and provide comfort when the time came that one would pass away.

And so it was, for the first several years of our marriage. Chantilly and Angel moved with us from Wyoming to Vermont in 1996. We were fortunate that we lived with my parents at first, and then in various apartments that allowed us to keep our pets at home.

Around the turn of the millennium, even though Chantilly and Angel weren’t all that old, we drove three hours from home just to adopt our third cat, Loki. We’d been married about five years, and four of those years were spent trying to get pregnant. I was on the kind of drugs that, in addition to helping me ovulate in a timely manner, also played havoc with my psyche and emotions. Loki wasn’t a real baby, but he helped ease the pain of childlessness, being a playful and affectionate addition to the family.

Both Rob and I worked at Vermont Technical College, where we’d earned our Associate’s degrees. The Vet Tech program there took in dogs and cats each year, and before the summer they all needed to find homes. I made the mistake one day of stopping in to visit one of my friends, who was in charge of the lab, and asking her if any of their cats needed some snuggling. She put Finny in my arms, and I was instantly in love. He just wanted to be held and cuddled, something that helped my childless heart bear the pain a little better. We had then been trying to get pregnant for almost ten years, as well as having competed our foster parent training but inexplicably not having a child placed with us. We let him stay in the empty room we’d decorated in preparation for a child, letting the cats get to know each other through the crack at the bottom of the door.

Four cats was too many. But we weren’t done yet.

After eleven years of trying to get pregnant, we finally had a foster daughter and we were enduring the endless trials of waiting for the termination of the birth parents’ rights and her release to finally be adopted. Our daughter, then seven years old, told me there was a kitten on the porch. Although I didn’t believe her (lying was and still is one of her greatest vices) I went to check, and was amazed to discover it was true. Bug-riddled and starving, the kitten waltzed through the front door and never left.

It was late autumn. He’d probably either been born in or abandoned in the woods across the street from our house. It was unlikely he’d survive the winter. I couldn’t stand the thought of taking him to the humane society; here was a helpless furbaby, presented to us without any prompting or begging on our part, while we were praying and hoping that we could adopt our daughter and maybe, just maybe get pregnant before my body was too old to safely carry a child.

We took Simon in. (He’s watching me write this; the other four cats each passed away over the last several years.) His boney ribcage filled out that summer, and human-administered medicine got rid of

the bugs. He and the other cats thrived, and the next Spring we finalized our daughter’s adoption.

And a year after Simon came to us, I finally had a baby girl of my own.

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Without Knowing

Reva, about a year after her adoption was finalized.

Reva, about a year after her adoption was finalized.

Sometime around the turn of the millennium, hubby and I took a long day’s drive to travel from Vermont up to Toronto. My father was born there, and although we had lost track of any living relatives, we did visit the graveyard where many of my ancestors are buried.

One marker caught me off guard. David… my uncle. My father’s baby brother, who lived for only a few weeks. I knew the story. When my father and his big brother were somewhere in their early teens, my grandparents had another baby boy. I think they knew late in the pregnancy that the baby would not survive. Of course it was a difficult time for the family; but by the time I was old enough to know the story, it was ancient history.

Seeing his grave marker gave me pause. Here was someone I knew…sort of. He was my uncle. If he had lived, he would probably have carried me on his shoulders or told me all kinds of stories about my father that I’d never hear from his own mouth. Instead, his life was tragically short. He was and will forever be a baby.

Around that same time, I had the odd feeling that there was another baby I should know…or rather, one that I would know. We had been trying to get pregnant, and I’d hoped to give birth in the year 2000. That didn’t happen. But I did have it in the back of my mind that we could adopt a baby, perhaps even one born in the year 2000. Somewhere, out there in the world, was a child that would someday be mine.

A few years later, hubby and I had graduated from college and bought our first home. We spent months going through foster parent training and certification, just to wait an entire year after that with no child placed in our home. We did respite for several children, but none of them were able to be placed with us permanently.

Then one day my hubby came home with the picture of a grinning, toothless little redheaded girl. She was in foster care and would very likely soon be adoptable. She was not in the private foster system we were registered with; she was a ward of the state. It took time, red tape, and paperwork to resolve that, but our six-year-old daughter (born in 1999) moved in with us in 2005. Two years later her adoption was final, and I gave birth to her baby sister.

It feels somehow fraudulent to claim that I loved two babies without knowing them. I love my Uncle David, though he died long before I was born. I loved my daughter before I knew her.

Love knows no boundaries of time or presence.

Love simply is.

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The Wish

By Jessica Tam (Wish) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Her daughter turned eighteen towards the end of her Junior year. Maeve knew she wouldn’t have all the answers then, but she’d hoped for something… more. Something definitive. A label perhaps, or a plan.

Fortunately, she still had the entire school team, nay, the entire village that is required to raise a child with special needs, for one more year.

The senior year came and went.

And there was still no label, no distinct road to follow. It was like driving in Wyoming during a bad snowstorm; you inch along because if you don’t get somewhere you’ll surely freeze and die, but you can’t see more than inches in front of your face.

There was a plan. At least they had a plan. What a wonderful, handy dandy thing to have, a plan.

Maeve had a wish.

How do I make my daughter’s life as fulfilling and wonderful as it could possibly be?

She looked at her teenage daughter, the twelve year old stuck in a nineteen year old body with the expectations that went with it. Her daughter also had a wish.

How do I get through this as easy as possible?

They told her that these kids, these children with special needs, were always trying their very best and doing the hardest work, even if it was frustrating for the parents and the team. Even if it seemed like they weren’t trying at all.

The experts were idiots. The experts knew how to generalize and compare and see the “big picture.” Maeve knew her daughter. Yes, her daughter’s brain was hard at work. But it wasn’t working on how to make an independent life for herself, or how to conquer the demons and disabilities that plagued her. No, that brain was occupied with other things. Survival. Because when you spend the first few years of your life not knowing from moment to moment whether you will survive, whether the boogey-man your drug-addled birth mother tells you about might come to get you…whether your drunken birth father really is that boogey-man or whether it’s one of the other men who haunt the shelter… when your childhood is spent that way, you never lose the instinct to survive. She was only grown-up in body and legal statistics. Her mind was still a child’s, and probably always would be.

And that child was scared to death of the big bad world.

Fifteen years was not enough. Maeve doubted whether thirty would be enough. She saw the past and glimpsed the pending.

She could always only glimpse the pending.

This story is unrelated to any other I’ve done. It is my linky for the Write On Edge prompt that is the word “WISH” and the song by The Shins “Past and Pending.” It is fiction, not memoir, though I admit that it was partly inspired by my worry over what might face my daughter a few years from now when she turns eighteen.


“Bastinado!” Allie cursed under her breath as she stepped on a toy for the third time on the short trip to the bathroom. The first had been a squeaky toy that startled her more than hurt. The second had been play dough. At least, she hoped it was play dough…

She had made sure Roma only played with the Legos at the table. She was certain they were all put back in the plastic bin downstairs. So, what was she stepping on that hurt so much?

She performed a Plié, which was easier than bending over in her very pregnant state.

It was a toy soldier. A little piece of plastic was torturing her foot.

Allie limp-hopped into the bathroom, sighing with relief when she finally met her goal.

“Where did you come from?” She asked the tiny man. “Did Grandpa Loren give you to Roma? Or was it Uncle Jake?”

Allie had never thought of Thanksgiving as being a gift-giving holiday, yet every family member seemed to have spontaneously decided to bring something for their new addition. Roma’s eyes had gone wide when she saw the stack of presents. Allie had forced herself not to over-react. Even though Roma’s adoption was a long-awaited, much celebrated event, she was determined to give her daughter as normal a life as possible, and not to spoil her, even though every fiber of her body wanted to buy every toy and adorable little dress she saw.

The baby squirmed, and Allie wondered how many more times she would have to get up to pee that night.

She wondered how many more toys she’d find hidden in the plush carpet.

And she couldn’t be happier.

This little story was written in response to the Write On Edge prompt to choose one of the small items in the picture and use it as inspiration.

This week, I have a couple of important extras! A few weeks ago, my first story  was published in an anthology called Precipice. It’s available in both print and electronic formats. Also, I have a short story entered in the America’s Next Author contest, which ends soon. You can read and download that story for free on the website. I’d appreciate your vote (just takes a click on the site, no log in) and if you’re feeling very generous, please leave a review! (requires a log-in with basic info)


This was written for the Write on Edge prompt:

As a writing teacher, I often have my students write memoir/nonfiction pieces.  In the beginning, most students want to write strictly about themselves.

One of the lessons I teach them is that other people help shape who we are through their words to us, their actions, or their lack of action.

Your assignment for this week is to write about a memory of yourself WITH someone else.

Remember, it’s MEMOIR, so it needs to be about YOUR experience with this person and it needs to be TRUE.

Let’s keep it to 600 words or less. (I failed miserably at that… this is 900 words. But after reading, I decided I’d rather commit the sin of being too long rather than cut the words I feel are important.)

“I went ahead and did something without asking you.” My husband announced. Normally, we would discuss any major decision before taking action, so I knew this had to be important.

He handed me a photo. An adorable little red-headed girl grinned back at me, sitting on a swing, missing quite a few teeth. My gut wrenched at the same time as my heart felt that little flutter of hope. Ten years we’d been married, wanting kids but unable to have them. We had our stamp of approval from the powers that be… we just didn’t have an actual child yet.

He explained how she needed a family willing to go through the uncertainty of the TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) process, a family who wanted to adopt.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

My heart sang, and we went through the process of pushing through all the red tape till she moved in with us on October 1, 2005, one month after starting Kindergarten.

She was wonderful and a huge challenge all at once. The term Special Needs encompasses a vast array of difficulties, and hers had only begun to be identified. We quickly learned that many of the usual strategies that were effective with all the other kids we’d had in our lives did not work with her. In fact, sometimes they had negative consequences.

Using a sing-song voice and smile to chide “Oh, silly, that doesn’t work!” would not encourage her to try something else; in fact it encouraged her to make the same mistake over again, even worse than before. She wanted to hear that sing-song chiding voice. It was, and is frustrating to have to control my voice in a firm, serious tone every time I have to chastise her. It’s awkward to use a mixture of tones whether I’m talking to her or her non-disabled sister.

We were searching for worms in the yard one afternoon, a couple weeks after she moved in. I gave her a small hard-plastic aquarium to keep her new pets in. She asked me if she could carry it up to her room, and I hesitantly said yes. I didn’t want to make the trek down the big hill to the kitchen door. She could go inside without me for just a moment.

But more than a moment passed and she didn’t come out. I fought back the feeling of trepidation, telling myself she was probably just petting the cats.

When I reached the stairs, I found a mess of rocks, mud, worms, and broken plastic all other the place. She had dropped it, shattering the little habitat into a thousand pieces. But where was she? Wouldn’t a normal six-year-old come running out the door crying “Mommy Mommy! My worm cage broke!”

My emotions immediately clouded my mind. I was angry. Not only was there a huge mess, but she hadn’t even told me, nor was she attempting to clean it up. I found her in the bathroom, trying desperately to hide the fact that she’d been crying.

Looking at the scene in hindsight, knowing what I know now, I can imagine a much more appropriate and productive reaction. I could have explained to her how I understand that she used to get hit when she cried, that she used to face horrible abuse for any infraction, real or imagined. I could have reassured her that she was safe with us, that we would understand and help her through this difficult time.

But hindsight was not what I had at that moment. I had a child with a speech impediment. A child who was behind all the other kids in school because she spent the first five years of her life suffering abuse and neglect instead of learning her ABC’s. I had a child who, whenever she had a time-out, sat quietly and wide-eyed on the naughty step for six minutes before coming to me to discuss why she was in time-out. She seemed almost happy to take time-outs. I had a child who had been sweet though spirited with me through the weeks of red tape and finally moving in as my child.

It was only the first of many episodes where she would run and hide instead of ask for help. We paid dearly time and time again for things that, if she’d just told us immediately what had happened, would have had little or no consequence, but left to fester caused a rotting, stinking mess.

Today she left for middle school, a day ahead of all the other kids. She’s spending this day getting to know the team of people who will be helping her at the new school, the team whose job it will be to keep her as integrated with her non-disabled peers as possible, while still giving her the accommodations she needs. She still hides the evidence of any perceived wrongdoing, and unfortunately she has learned to hide better instead of learning to trust us. I feel like a failure there, but she’s not quite thirteen yet, and we still have a few years of precious childhood in which to fix the thousand little and large hurts that were brought upon her in those earliest years.

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