Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
The Match

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This journey through the adoption process is, for my husband and me, a walk of faith. I fear, however, that I am becoming hyper-focused on how to know which child is the right child for us. I read books and watch movies about couples who adopt multiple children. I ask people close to me for their opinions on how they think we should decide whether a child will fit into our family. And I pray.

The adoption movies are helpful, but I struggle to completely trust the wisdom they impart. In each of the stories, the adopting couple has always been certain that they are intended to adopt a particular child when they meet him or her. The answer often arrives in some type of connection that can be drawn to the couple, a connection too obvious to ignore, and sometimes when the adoptive parents first meet their child, they feel strongly compelled to say, "This is our child." I wonder if this will happen for us. Why, when my faith is strong enough to lead me to take this journey, do I still not trust that we will know the right child?

Then my husband tells me one day that he had asked God for a sign to help us know whether a child we are matched to is the child we should adopt. My husband prays boldly, so the sign he requested is a very specific one. "A pair of doves landing near our house," he says.

"What do you mean doves?" I say. "What are these doves supposed to do? And why did you pick doves?" I quickly Google doves so I will know what they look like.

He smiles that hold-on-for-the-ride kind of smile but doesn't give me an answer.

A few days later, after hearing nothing from the social workers for months, I receive an email about two boys, ages three and five. The social worker from DCYF says she realizes these children are younger than the ages we specified (5-12), but for some reason she still feels that we should consider meeting them. I talk to my husband. Part of me is excited. Years ago, after we had our last child, I didn't feel ready to be done raising children, and I lamented never again caring for a baby. I loved mothering, especially at the younger ages. Interacting with young children brings me back to a time I loved. But another part of me knows that taking in young children would be a significant challenge to us in our 50s.

That afternoon, I sit on my front porch writing, and the coo of doves startles me. The sounds come from the roof. Have I heard the coo of doves here before? Are these the doves my husband had asked to hear?

I question whether it works that way—whether we can pray for a sign and then specify what that sign will be. And, I wonder whether, when we hear it, we can come to believe that it's a directive.

When my husband gets home from work, I mention the doves to him. He stops at the kitchen counter and looks at me with wide eyes. "Really?" he says. Then he smiles.

"What do you think it means?" I ask.

He shrugs. "Not sure," he says. "Maybe we're supposed to take these kids," he says. I see in his eyes that he is as intrigued as I am, but he appears to enjoy mystery a bit more than I do.

"But it was your sign," I press. "You need to know what it means."

After much discussion, we agree to be open to the three and five-year-old boys in case these are the children that God intends for us to parent. We respond back to the social worker that we'd like to hear more about the children. She agrees to follow up, but then we hear nothing for awhile.

In the world of foster care adoption, no news often means only that the process moves slowly. So at this point we don't question the silence. Over the next few weeks, I wake up in the middle of the night picturing myself buckling two flailing children into their car seats. I always hated the car seat—that obstinate buckle that never clicks in between their legs without a struggle. I picture maneuvering the dreaded double stroller. Food shopping with two little boys who climb out of the shopping cart and pull things off the shelves. Getting my daily walk in while managing boys who just want to run. But at the same time, a part of me still misses the wonder and excitement of those early years—reading bedtime stories, making playdough masterpieces, the silliness of bath time. I know I would relish having small children to comfort and love. And, I know I would enjoy the connection to other mothers that having school-age children brings.

But as I think more on the many years of responsibilities that come with young children—being woken at night, endless days of drippy noses, volunteering in the classroom, chaperoning class trips—I begin to get anxious. I imagine being embarrassed about my age when the children reach elementary school. I imagine hanging out with the other mothers, 20 years younger.

As much as I love little ones, I realize that I don't want to mother those ages now. I'm too old to parent small children, and I'm not certain I will have the energy needed when they reach high school. I struggle with fibromyalgia, an illness that makes my body stiff and achy much of the time. My husband's medical practice is demanding, and we still have three biological children that we help and support through their young adult years. Maybe I'm better suited now to the things I have done more recently, like helping with high school homework, preparing for college applications, and chatting with eager minds about politics and faith. My husband encourages me to email the social worker so we can put these worries to rest. I do, and an answer comes back right away. The boys have been placed elsewhere. I feel relieved. We return to waiting.

In the meantime, there are no adoption movies left to watch as I step on my treadmill each morning, but I'm certain I've finally extracted the essence of their message. I can't know how I will recognize the intended child, but I believe that I will feel it in my heart.

Then, on a quiet afternoon after many more days have passed, an email from the social worker pops onto my screen. She has found the children for us, and she feels strongly they are right. I've grown to deeply respect this woman when she taught our classes and completed our home study, so something tells me this might be it. I call her right away to get details about the children—teenagers, brother and sister—older than the ages we had specified on our application. She is excited about this match.

She tells me that the children had asked to be adopted by parents who are Christians, because their faith is important to them. The social worker knows the depth of our faith; she has seen it in our home study and through the interviews she conducted with our biological children. We have shared with her that it is faith that calls us to follow this adventurous path to take in a stranger's child.

Since it's our faith that directed us on this path, and since these children are seeking parents who share their faith, I am certain I have my answer. Doves or not, I know it now, these are to be our children.

Julianne Palumbo’s poems, short stories, and essays have been published widely. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks Into Your Light (Flutter Press, 2013) and Announcing the Thaw (Finishing Line Press, 2014) and the founder of Mothers Always Write, an online literary magazine about motherhood.

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Heather Vrattos is pursuing an interest in photography by taking courses at the International Center of Photography. She is the mother of three boys, and lives in New York City.

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