Thank you for coming back to Part 2 of my “interview” with John Simmons. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.
Q- I understand you have adopted both domestically and internationally. Could you compare the processes?
No. Next question? Seriously, they couldn’t be more different. Like my wife and me, many people who end up adopting internationally have been driven to do so by the unreasonable system here, in the United States. Unless parents are willing to take on children with Special Needs (which range everywhere from birth mother’s drug use, to physical/mental challenges, to being from a race that is traditionally more difficult to place in a family) they are usually required to provide foster care first, while working toward adoption. My wife and I decided to adopt after having three sons “biologically.” (That always sounds weird. I’m not sure there’s another way to produce a child. We haven’t figured out how to build mechanical ones, but you get what I’m saying…) We adopted a one-month-old baby boy with Down syndrome. (Jack is now almost eighteen.) As we turned back to adoption to add girls to our family, we were pushed back towards Special Needs or foster. I told the social worker we had already caught our limit of Special Needs kids. For me, the problem with foster, leading to adoption is that you have no control. At any time, the State can decide to give abusive, drug-addicted parents a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth, ad infinitum) chance, and pull the kids you are calling your own out of your home. How do you build trust with children in that situation? “These other kids are ‘our kids.’ Maybe one day you will be ‘our kid’. Oh, but your birth parents might be okay… (Just in case you have to go back, you need to be okay with that.) Keep doing well in school, try to fit in, build a life and maybe the State won’t take it away from you. Buck up little camper! Why are you so discouraged all the time?” ‘Nuf said on our gleaming U.S. social system.
Still, other countries participate on the giving side of large-scale international adoption because their social systems are not nearly as advanced as ours. Scary. Then there’s the differences of cultures. Communist or former communist countries are bureaucracy-crazy. They make the Department of Motor Vehicles look like a well-oiled machine. Paper-work (as you have already seen) is almost overwhelming. And everything has to be done perfectly, though often paperwork from the other country needs to be done multiple times before reaching nirvana. So, we go to another place with a lesser system because our system is unbearable. What it boils down to is choosing which problems you are most comfortable with.
Then there are the orphanages. They are devastating. I had traveled a lot outside the U.S., so I wasn’t affected by old paint, less-than-pristine carpets, and bad cement- work as many people were. I didn’t consider it horrible conditions as some people do. The workers cared about the children. The children were clean and they got enough to eat (though obesity is never a problem). Still, seeing so many wonderful, happy, loving, optimistic children without families was almost more than I could deal with (and I’m an extremely practical person, by nature).
Age also plays a big part in adapting. The youngest child we adopted was our son, Denney. He was almost two when we brought him home from Russia. There was very little culture adjustment for him. Once a child begins to communicate fluently in their native language, though, the culture adaptation is significant and it increases with age and experience. I am talking about the culture difference between food, language, dress and customs from country to country, but I am also talking about the culture differences between institutional living and family living.
Q- What are the first days like with an adopted child?
I’d say it’s like magic but it’s not like magic, it is magic. Time stops. The stress that you have been living up until that moment goes away. You will sit in your hotel bed and watch your husband with messy hair, in his pajamas (which he never wore before being in a hotel room with his adopted daughter), having his first dance with his little daughter while music plays softly in the background. You will hold your daughter wrapped up tightly in her brand new pink blanket and brand new clothes (the first brand new blanket and new clothes she has ever had). You will look deeply into those beautiful dark eyes and wonder how you ever lived without her. This time is also magical because every difficulty can be solved with hugs, kisses, favorite foods, tickles or funny faces.
You will feel like your energy and emotional tank—that has been running on empty—is being re-filled. You will feel the fuel pouring back into your system and you’ll think that you can now go on forever. Make sure you top off the tank completely, though. And fill up a few extra gas cans to pack along. “Next Services” are a lot of miles ahead.
Q- What advice would you give to a prospective adoptive parent?
Spend at least an hour a week in your child’s chair. It doesn’t need to be an hour at a time, but give it the whole hour, collectively. Throw your experience away. Go back to what you knew when you were two, or three, or seventeen. What questions would you ask? What would concern you? “Why are boys more important than girls? People in China didn’t throw away boys. Why did they throw away girls?” “Why didn’t God just make me born in this family?” “Did my birth-mother love me?” “If she did, why wasn’t I worthy of enough love for her to keep me?” “Was I kidnapped and sold to Americans? If so, is my birth-family looking for me?” “Why do people outside our family treat me different than my brothers?”
If you spend that hour trying to be your child, the answers come easier.
Also, always want that child as much as you want her right now. All teenagers cut apron strings and there are difficulties with parents. When that happens with adopted children, they can be brutal. Always want that child as much as you do the first time you hold her, even if she claims she doesn’t want you. If that ever happens, remember it’s just teenaged angst. Teenagers fight dirty. Parents never should.
Next week we talk about Russia’s recent decision to ban adoptions by US citizens.