Baby Steps

The Next Family

By: Ted Peterson

Ian told me he loved me one night in December 2005, a couple months after we started dating. He was dropping me off at my apartment in West Hollywood, and he kissed me and said, “I love you.”

“Good night,” I smiled, and went inside.

Seconds later, I was on the phone, “I love you too!”

All our big moments have been like that, starting off little until it dawns just how consequential it was. The path that led to us becoming Mikey’s parents, for example. Each step along the way was a small one, not too scary, which led to the next obvious step, and so on, and so on.

We had talked in vague terms that neither of us was against starting a family, so when the time came for us to move in together, we picked a place with extra rooms on a quiet cul de sac. It was perfect for kids, if we decided to have one.

If.

We heard about the eight weeks of classes at Southern California Foster Family and Adoption Agency at about the time they were starting, fully intending to drop out if we decided it wasn’t for us. A lot of people did drop. Robyn Harrod and her group make sure that everyone knows that there’s no such thing as a child in foster care with a happy start in life. We heard about drug use, neglect, abuse, and all the ways the damage can manifest itself. Ian was adopted himself, and some of it was hard and some of it was therapeutic, and we kept on going. I began a blog about that time, 3 years ago, to describe the process.

More small steps. To be eligible to foster children, we had to complete a “home study”, where we took CPR and First Aid classes, were fingerprinted and background-checked, and had our house child-proofed from top to bottom. Once all that was done, it was still not scary. There was no child in our house. We had to get a phone call first, and we had to say yes. Life could go on as normal.

Then we got phone calls, and after we said no a couple times, we surprised ourselves by saying yes. He was a five-month-old baby boy, whose mother had driven him to L.A. from Nevada, and had a breakdown. At three o’clock in the afternoon, Ian got the call about him, and four hours later, he was asleep in our bed.

We didn’t have time to think about the hugeness of it all, because there was too much to do. In addition to all the parental nurturing responsibilities everyone has to do with a baby, there were the legal responsibilities which came down hard. We had to get him to a pediatrician who took Medi-Cal within 24 hours, but we weren’t given a Medi-Cal card. The judge had decided he was to have three-hour-long visits three times a week.

It was hard, and it was fun, for one whole month. The day we lost him, when we were told that the case was moving back to Nevada and we had to bring him to LAX and hand him to a social worker like he was a package: that was the worst day. I can still make myself cry thinking about it.

A short while later, we were home watching “House” and we got a phone call asking if we could take a one-year-old. Right now. We said, oh, okay, and fifteen minutes later, they were at our door with a toddler who was almost two years old.

With the baby, when we put him down someplace, he might roll a bit, but he’d stay. With a 21-month-old, he’d be out the door and down the street. With the baby, we just had to give him some milk and formula and work the burps out. With the 21-month-old, we learned that they not only know what candy is, but they don’t ask for it quietly. You spent your mornings at the park trying to exhaust him, and your evenings trying to calm him down.

It was intense and a fabulous learning experience. Two weeks later, we got the phone call that we would be losing him – he had 9 brothers and sisters, and the judge wanted him to be with one of them. That wasn’t such a bad day for two reasons: 1) we had been through it with the baby already, and 2) in the same breath, our social worker asked, “But I was wondering if you could take an emergency placement – a 20-month-old named Michael?”

Forty-eight hours later, Mikey came into our home, and he never left. Six months later, on National Adoption Day last year, we were the first in the docket at Edmund D. Edelman’s children court, and the adoption was official.

Even after that, there were more little steps. The first Christmas. The first day at preschool. This month, we had our first trip abroad on an eleven-hour trip to England for Ian’s sister’s wedding.

Thinking about raising a child is daunting. When Mikey says he wants a brother or sister, imagining that addition to our family and what it would mean is overwhelming. Frankly, toilet training is a lot to tackle.

The good thing is that to go with each of these little steps is a big reward. Like getting Mikey’s official birth certificate with Ian and me listed as Parent 1 and Parent 2.

I got Parent 1, by the way, which in parentheses is also known as “Mother”.

Am I ever.

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