"What are your plans for having children?" Pastor Daniel Teerman asked us.
Andrea and I looked at each other. "We had planned on having four kids," she explained to the man who was to perform our wedding.
I "finished her sandwich" (Frozen humor): "We'd like to adopt two and have two of our own," I explained.
We didn't know what our future journey would hold...
Five years later, 900 miles away, and after many failed attempts at trying to get pregnant, Andrea and I contacted a local adoption agency.
We went through the numerous papers, compulsory doctor's checkups, social worker visits, fire marshal assessment, and telephone calls from people recommending that we were "fit to be parents," we finally got the process started with...twenty-four hours of professional development and the creation of a home study.
We learned about how to give kids medication, how to log the medication we administered, how to deal with their separation anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, what to do in case they threw poop at you or tried to burn your house down, and how to facilitate meetings with the birth parents.
At this point, we questioned whether foster care and adoption was for us.
We prayed about it and the doors continued to open. We finished our trainings and paperwork, and then the day came.
We were approved to be a foster home! Now we just had to...
Over the course of the next several months, we would hear on occasion from our social workers and other social workers from the agency to be placements for various kids. They would call us up, give us a brief description of the child (age, gender, race, and whatever medical information was available), and we would have to give them a split second decision.
Because my wife and I are one and work in accordance to one another, I would hang up, calling her as quickly as possible to let her know.
By the time I was able to call the social worker back and give them the thumbs up for us, they would often tell us that the child had been given to another couple.
After several months of this, as well as the continued lack of success conceiving, we became very discouraged by the entire scenario. At one point I even spent forty-five minutes on the phone with the director of the adoption agency, who encouraged us that she would personally find us a child, but that it would just take time to find that perfect fit for our family.
Then one day, we finally got a phone call.
A mother had given birth to a baby girl named Darla. Mom was an immigrant here from India, coming to America to have the baby. The child was brand new, less than a week old, and needed placement as quickly as possible. She had seen our profile and had chosen us as the family for her daughter that she could not care for, as she had conceived out of wedlock, something that was a big no-no in her home country. The agency had chosen us to take the baby while they got their ducks in a row. In the meantime, we began to outfit one of our three empty bedrooms, purchasing clothes, diaper bags, crib blankets, and changing tables. A week later we got a devastating phone call: because the child was born out of wedlock, the agency had to get the father's approval back in India. This would be a long process, and rather than having to work diplomatically across national borders and fearing legal repercussions, they had to retract the offer for the baby.
This was a hard blow for us. It was, to us, an adoption miscarriage: we had been promised a baby, were over the moon, and a week later told that the infant that was within arms reach would be taken away. We were devastated and lost all hope for a completed family.
A week later, we met with our social worker and she encouraged us to broaden what we would accept. We had previously been "in the market" for one child from ages 0-3 with no disabilities or special needs. We sat and talked and realized that as educators, we deal with students with special needs all day. We adjusted our certification and resubmitted it to the state. However, after losing Darla, we still had no hope.
A month or two later, we received an email from our social worker. The state had two little boys who needed a new placement out of a previous foster home. They were twins, three years old. One boy had gone through testing for developmental delays, while the other had had eye surgery and had vision difficulties. After reading the five page document about their background and medical history, we gave the okay, and the ball again started rolling. We learned that as of February 9, 2015, we would be bringing these two little boys into our home.
Excited, we told our biological families back home in Michigan, as well as our surrogate family we had created for ourselves in North Carolina, and the response was the same on all fronts. While everyone supported us, we got multiple questions: "Are you sure you want to do this?" "Is this something you can feasibly handle?" "Man, that seems like a lot of work." "Twins? Wow. Good luck to you." All of these people had felt for us in our infertility, but when we excitedly shared the news of our adoption, we could see through the feigned excitement of our family and friends. Only one set of our friends had the semblance of excitement for us. "Well, we haven't known you long, but we'll be here for you. We don't know what this is going to look like, but we will get through this together," the husband once told me.
Things began moving at a quick pace. We outfitted two bedrooms, converting the crib we had purchased for Darla into a twin bed, and purchasing a second bed set. Purchasing a few consigned toys and sets of clothes from a local store. My wife's school even threw an "adoption baby shower" for her. And as promised, on February 9, 2015, we picked our boys up from their previous child care and brought them home to us.
Due to my great principal, as well as the rare North Carolina winter conditions, I was able to score two weeks off from school for Paternity Leave, getting to know my boys. However, we were so stressed out that my wife and I spent the majority of those two weeks physically ill. We had taken these boys into our home, and had fallen in love with them instantly, but were we really able to handle being instant parents to a pair of three-year-old twins???
A few months later, we learned that the boys' 15-year-old sister needed a place to live, as she had basically gotten kicked out of her previous foster placement, as well; this was not due to anything she had done, but because her foster parents were not receiving the help (financially or otherwise) from the state. Wanting to keep the kids together, Andrea and I enthusiastically invited the young lady into our home. At this point, though, I was wigging out. She was 15, and I was 25. This was, to me, the equivalent of having one of my students move in with me. Would she even see me as a parent, or more of a peer? Was I qualified to be a parent to a 15-year-old? I mean, even I still saw myself as a kid-at-heart. I was struggling as it was being an instant parent to two kids, let alone a third who probably had pre-conceived notions about adults, let alone one only ten years her senior. And once again, when we talked to our parents, friends, and even our social worker about this, everyone asked us if we were really sure if this is what we wanted. However, after praying about it, we felt like it was the right thing to do. Once again, we were met with "Good lucks" and "May the Force be with you's."
Now let me explain something: Its not that our families and friends weren't supportive. They would support us no matter what decision we made. They just had reservations based on what society says "foster kids" and adoption is like. They had our best interests at heart. However, since the kids have moved in with us, our parents have fallen in love with the kids. My dad always says, half-jokingly, that he and my mom have been grandparents since they were in their 30s, they just didn't know it then.
Nonetheless, during the first week of June, 2015, the boys' older sister move in with us. And once again, she could not have fit in better with how we were as a family, both pre-established before the boys, as well as what we had created in our family of four after February.
The past year and nine months has not been easy. We've encountered a serious medical emergency (mine), deaths in the family, therapy sessions (as a family, for the kids, and for myself), and even growing pains for our new family as a whole.
However, we've come out of the fire each time stronger and more bonded as a whole.
But what's my point? Why did I decide to throw this out there? Let me tell you, it's not because I want to discourage anyone from adopting or fostering.
It's actually quite the opposite.
Yes, we've been through high-stress times. We went through a period of about three months where we were convinced the children's biological parents would appeal the decision to terminate their rights and ultimately have to say goodbye to these three kids we'd falling head-over-heels for. We've had to experience various "anniversaries" that have brought memories back to the minds of our kids, such as the dates they entered into foster care, or the deaths of important family members, or even the movement from one foster home to another. The biggest anniversary we've had, though, as a family, was on May 4, 2016: the day the kids' adoption was finalized and they officially became Kistes.
Here's my point:
Every time it comes up to someone that we have adopted, we get the same responses.
"Well good for you."
"Wow. You are awesome people."
"Well bless your hearts."
"I could never do something like that..."
How the heck do you respond to that????
Here's the thing. Andrea and I aren't awesome. Yes the road has been difficult, but even the events we've experienced the past 21 months that have nothing to do with the kids (my stroke, my mom and grandfather's cancer scares, deaths in the family, etc) have been just as, if not more, difficult than the challenges adopting three kids have brought. If anything, the challenges of becoming an instant parent has made me a better parent, as well as a better person. It's forced me to work out all the crap that I've forced down inside the past 28 years so I can have a positive influence on my kids in a hope they don't end up making the same mistakes that I've made.
But we're not saints. We're not awesome. We're just folks. We're just normal people.
We didn't choose to adopt. The choice was made for us.
We were told to adopt. Jesus said we "need to take care of the orphans and the widows." We simply followed God's plan for our life.
And even though things have been tough, both on the child front and on the personal front, with the devil trying to thwart the following of God's design, I would never go back to change anything.
I don't think any of the members of our family of five would. Our kids are awesome, all three of them. The boys are incredibly loving, and our daughter is incredibly smart, driven, kind-hearted, and caring for others. They may have been born from a biological set of parents, but they could not be more our kids if we had given birth to them ourselves.
So the next time I tell you that we've adopted, and you say to us something along the lines of "Wow. You guys are awesome," don't be surprised if Andrea or I respond with "No, we're not. We just do what God asks us to do."