We were driving home recently when I said cheerfully to my 10-year-old daughter, Deja, “Happy National Adoption Awareness Month!”
I’d suddenly remembered that it was this time last year when I’d been a guest on KPFA’s Morning Show to discuss my experiences as an adoptive parent of a former foster child. I’d spoken of the thousands of adoptable foster children across the United States, and of how adopting Deja has been an awesome and humbling journey.
The statistics on foster children are staggering. Over 100,000 foster children in the United States are awaiting permanent homes; more than 3,000 children and youth are in foster care in Alameda County alone. Most are children of color. Some people think that discriminatory standards are used to determine when children in foster care can be reunited with their families. Some believe the ever-increasing numbers of transracial adoptions (both domestic and international) reflect systemic racism. I wasn’t aware of these concerns when I adopted Deja, who is African American, but they do not negate the fact that there are many thousands of children waiting for homes right now.
“Thanks, Mom. Happy Adoption Month to you, too,” she replied nonchalantly.
I continued, “Do you remember when your adoption day was?”
“It was July 6, 2001,” I reminded her. “Do you remember the date you came as my foster kid?”
“Nah, don’t remember that either,” she said, adding, “Can we order Chinese food tonight?”
Adopting someone else’s child can bring on a plethora of mixed emotions for everyone involved. For me, adopting a child who was already walking and talking, and who anyone can see is not my biological child, has brought both joy and challenges. Because Deja was nearly three when she arrived, she sometimes recreates her past however she feels like:
“I used to live on a horse farm in Ireland,” she informed me when she was about five. On another day she told me that she and her mom used to “live in a punch-buggy [kid slang for a VW] parked outside of a laundry-mat.” That, I’m afraid, is much closer to the truth.
Maybe it doesn’t matter if she never memorizes the dates I asked her about—even if they’re branded in my mind forever. Before Deja came to my home she’d spent nearly three years with her biological family. They were the ones who were there as she learned to sit up, walk, and talk; they are the ones who share her skin color. Still, in 2000, the courts determined that her birth parents had significant enough issues to cost them their rights to raise her. As a single parent already raising my biological son, it wasn’t an instantaneous decision to adopt her, but in the end my heart won out. I have no regrets.
As I pulled into my parking spot, I smiled and asked Deja, even though I know she knows, “You remember when your birthday is, right?”
“October 22, 1996. Duh.” And then she returned to talking about whether to have chop suey or chow mein for dinner.
At that moment, anyway, ordering dinner was much more important to her than dwelling on her distant past or her far-off future.
Deja gave permission for her real name to be used in this story. November is National Adoption Awareness Month. To find out about adopting or fostering a child in Alameda County, call 259-3575.