Thursday, November 3, 2016

National Adoption Month

Adoption is, as a subject, very close to my heart, for obvious reasons.

First and foremost, it's because, without it, I would have no place in the family of God. That adoption shows the reality of the hidden cost we often forget in the happiness of adoption and the creation of families: that adoption is, at its heart, redemption, and redemption does not come without a price, and sometimes, a terrible one. Without the terrible price of Jesus's life, my position as a fully adopted and invested daughter of God would not exist. It reminds me that Hubby and I are not the only ones who paid a price for the lives of our family. God paid the ultimate one to have us belong to Him.

Adoption is the reason why we have enjoyed sharing our lives with a parade of fabulous felines, some of whom we've had to say goodbye to entirely too soon. We traded a life without cat hair and hairballs and feline kleptomania for one where cat hair is a condiment, all the best seats are taken, alarm "clocks" with no snooze buttons who want to play at 4 a.m., and under-the-bed sneak attacks. I miss those we've lost—Popoki, our gentle giantess; Keiki, who liked to talk to herself and could sound like a herd of elephants when she ran across pine floors; Pa'ani, with his Edsel purr, who never met a stranger, just a new friend; and sweet Minou, whose gentle heart graced us all with her presence. I am supremely grateful for those who still share our hearts and lives: Mika, who, at 17, still thrives and is still my watch-cat and nursemaid; Koa, who has spent most of the last 15 and a half years trying to take over the world, and is also our resident klepto; Kimo, who helped us heal after our sudden loss of Pa'ani; and Makaha, who has both grown into the lofty name we gave him and still lives up to his kittenhood nickname of "Crackhead" (bestowed upon him by Special Edition), who gave me purpose and a reason to keep moving after we lost Dad so suddenly last year.

Adoption is the reason we have a house, not an apartment. It's the reason I hear pinging from a video game right now. It's the reason for an overabundance of Halloween candy in my home. It's the reason I have all of my children.

Back in the beginning, we had no idea we would end up here. We had no idea this would be the start of an adoption journey.

I remember, about a month into our parenthood experiment, when my parents came out to babysit for an evening to give Hubby and me a much-needed night off. When we returned home to my poor, exhausted parents, Hubby looked at my mom and asked, "Mom, tell me the truth. How long do you think we're going to have the girls?"

Mom didn't bat an eyelash. "Eighteen years."

Hubby's eyes bugged. "No, seriously, Mom."

"Eighteen years."

As it turned out, as it has on many occasions, Mom was right. After a little over a year, we found ourselves in the position of needing to do the unthinkable: defend the girls from those who should be protecting them but were instead placing them in direct danger. We filed suit for full custody of the girls, along with a special relief petition to keep them in our care until our custody suit was resolved.

It took 14 months for us to wind through the court process: presentation of the custody case, establishing visitation schedules, scheduling a hearing, the first continuation, the filing of the girls' biological mother's attorney to be relieved as counsel of record, reassignment to a new judge (to our great relief), a second continuation, a very pointless reconciliation hearing in which nothing got reconciled, a third continuation (this time on our part, due to the short duration of time our hearing was scheduled for; there was no way we could present all of our evidence in that amount of time and still allow for the other parties to present as well), a fourth continuation (this one and the first two were all at the bio mom's request), and then finally arriving at the hearing...and this was just the hearing on our special relief petition, not the custody case. Our attorney asked the judge to make a summary judgment on our case, based on the fact that the evidence we presented that day for the special relief petition hearing was the same evidence we would present at the custody hearing.

Our judge was relatively new, just having been elected the prior November and ascending to the bench in January of that year. But as a former county prosecutor, she knew her stuff. What we didn't know yet was how she would rule and when she would rule on our case, because our attorney didn't have enough experience with her yet. My parents were present in the courtroom; they both believed they needed to stand up for their grandchildren who could not fight for themselves, even when it meant stepping into a legal fray that now pitted two of their children against each other. My mother even testified on our behalf. She watched my testimony on the stand after the lunch break, and said afterward that she thought the judge was writing her opinion and the order as I testified. (My father called my time on the stand "magnificent" and he said he was sorry for doubting me.) And we were all astonished when the judge ruled that day.

Her order gave us primary physical custody of the girls, along with shared legal custody (which meant we had an obligation to share things like school grades when asked, to discuss major healthcare decisions, things like that), and imposed strict regulations on visitation for both biological parents. It was the best possible decision that we could have hoped for that day. It gave legal standing to what we had been doing now for more than two years. We had spent all this time acting in loco parentis, which is what gave us the legal standing to bring our case to court in the first place. Now we had the official rank of legal guardianship, formal custodianship, of these children we thought of as ours, who we were raising with all the love as if they were indeed ours.

That's only the first part of our journey, and a bare summation at that. As National Adoption Month continues, I hope to be able to share more of the ups and downs of our adoption story. Every adoption story is unique, and ours is no different. What comes at the "end" of each story—although it is so hard to call an adoption hearing the end, for it's a new beginning—is the ultimate goal of adoption and redemption.