The Making of a Forever Family
By: Shannon Ralph
My children are going to court today. Do not be alarmed. We are not in the midst of a custody battle. After the day I had with the kids yesterday, I am afraid there would be no “battling” involved. I would simply let Ruanita have them free and clear. So it’s probably a good thing we are not divorcing today. Rather, Ruanita is going to court this morning to stand up for the downtrodden and forlorn. Well, the downtrodden and forlorn people who live in our house, at least. She, Sophie, and Nicholas are going to court to battle the dreaded DMV.
Several months ago, we received a notice in the mail indicating that it was time to renew the tabs on our minivan (yes…I drive a minivan, but in my defense, it is quite against my will). Being the one who pays the bills in the family, I wrote out a check, mailed it off to the DMV, and forgot about it completely. A month later, as we were loading the kids into the minivan—no doubt off on an exciting adventure—we found a ticket on our windshield. Our tabs had expired and a roving traffic cop had ticketed us. Immediately, Ruanita turned to me and exclaimed, with a definite hint of howler monkey in her tone, “Didn’t you pay the tabs?!” As it turns out, I did pay the tabs—a fact Ruanita discovered when she dragged our four-year-old twins down to the DMV to write out a check. We had paid them, but the DMV, being the infinitely organized bureaucracy it is, neglected to mail them out to us. Hence, the ticket.
Ruanita refused to pay the ticket, and rightly so. She was given a date to go to court to plead her case and fight to hang on to our $280. Since I work in the mornings, Ruanita has the pleasure of taking Sophie and Nicholas with her to court today while Lucas is in school. I imagine that she is having quite an exciting time as I write this. She told me that she bribed the children to behave by promising them Happy Meals for lunch. However, I am feeling fairly confident that not even the promise of deep-fried processed chicken and crappy toy trinkets will subdue our energetic four-year-olds in a court of law. Poor, poor Ruanita.
The thought of my kids wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting courtroom has me thinking about their first trip to the courthouse. Today is not my children’s first foray into the legal arena. However, the last time they visited a courtroom, they were merely infants. In their short lives, all three of my children have seen the inside of a courtroom. What did they do wrong? What caused them to be hauled into a courtroom and made to stand (well…actually, lay there and drool) before a judge? Their only offense was that they were born to parents with dubious legal standing.
All three of my children are adopted. Ruanita gave birth to Lucas and I adopted him. I gave birth to our twins and Ruanita adopted them. It’s a weird concept…this second-parent adoption. I mean, it’s a wonderful thing. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great. But it’s quite bizarre at the same time. Ruanita and I spent an entire year trying to get pregnant with Lucas. Month after agonizing month of negative pregnancy tests. We anguished over what we were doing wrong. What was the problem? Was our timing off? How were we managing to screw it up over and over and over again? When Ruanita finally became pregnant, we were both overjoyed and mildly nauseous as the gravity of what we were doing set in. We were creating a new life from scratch and pledging to take care of it for the rest of its life. What the hell were we thinking?!
Though initially bewildered, we slowly began to fall in love with the child Ruanita was carrying. We decided on the name Lucas Matthew, naming him after my brother who was serving in Iraq at the time. We proudly showed off our ultrasound pictures to anyone and everyone willing to take a stab at finding the fetus in the Rorschach-like photos. We purchased a crib. We shopped for car seats and strollers and bottles and pacifiers. We dressed Ruanita in girly, frilly maternity clothes that were so outside the realm of anything she would ever have normally worn. But she was beautiful. We started to feel like a family.
We also started to feel the weight of our responsibility. We were responsible for providing this child with a stable, happy childhood. We were entrusted with the task of protecting him and loving him and shielding him from all of the ugly in the world. In order to do so, we both needed to be on equal standing. We both needed to be Lucas’s legal parents in order to fulfill our promise of protecting him. So we found an attorney, filled out the proper paperwork, got signed affidavits from our families attesting to our commitment to one another and to our son, went to court, and forked over a huge chunk of change.
When all was said and done, we paid about $3000 to adopt our own children. I realize that $3000 is a mere drop in the bucket compared to what other people pay to adopt children. However, we were adopting our own children. I was the one who spent hours painstakingly perusing donor profiles to find the perfect donor. (Blonde hair? Brown hair? Do we have any conscientious objection to hazel eyes? Is 5’9” too short? Should a history of hay fever knock the neuroscientist out of the running?) I was the one cleaning up the mess when Ruanita simultaneously puked and peed on herself. (Yea…don’t buy into the beautiful images of serenely glowing expectant mothers peering out from the pages of the pregnancy books. Pregnancy is downright ugly at times.) I was the one driving to McDonalds in the middle of the night because Ruanita had to have a cheeseburger at that very moment. I was the first one to hold Lucas when he was born. I cut his umbilical cord. He was mine from the moment he was born. He belonged to me even before he was conceived. He belonged to me when he was nothing more than a fleeting thought…a gingerly broached discussion between Ruanita and me. The thought of going to court to adopt him seemed somehow antithetical to reason.
Of course, we never even considered not going through with the adoption process. We dutifully paid the fees and dragged each of our crying infants downtown to the county courthouse to get that rubber stamp of approval. Affording our children the same legal protections that every other child enjoys was immensely more important than our own egos. If it took a judge banging a gavel and “approving” us as a family, so be it. I suppose that I should be happy to live in a county that allows second-parent adoption. I live in a large city in a progressive county in a fairly progressive state (as a matter of fact, Minneapolis was just named the #1 “Gayest City in America” by The Advocate magazine. Woo-hoo!) So many children of gay and lesbian parents all across this country are being raised in households with tenuous legal standing because their parents can not adopt them. Because they live in cities and towns and counties that do not value our families, they do not have the protections that I enjoy. Deadbeat dads and meth addict moms have more legal rights in regards to their children than loving, nurturing gay parents. So yes, I should be happy to have been given the opportunity to adopt my children. And I am. I am thrilled beyond belief to be the legal parent of all three of my children. However, I can’t help the fact that the whole thing left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
Ruanita and I are both 100% legally bound to our children now…and they to us. Of course, it didn’t take a judge to bind me to my children. We are a family. We were a family before the judge banged his gavel. We will always and forever be a family. We are the new American family. And we are here to stay.