The sounds of children never abated. There were cries and laughter, questions and exclamations, grumbles and chirps, calls of Mawwwwwm, eager and urgent and hopeful.
But not once during the nearly 2-hour ceremony was shade thrown at a fellow parent. Only smiles. Only eye contact that sent a silent strobe of empathy along with the message of Bless your soul. Everyone at the National Adoption Day event held at Nauticus today was part of the same family of compassion.
It was the kids’ day. Who were the adults to ask them to settle down during a party held to honor their newfound stature as members of permanent families?
“Today is a celebration of being chosen,” said the Honorable Chief Judge William P. Williams. “You’ve formed the core of a family. Not by chance… With great joy your parents found you. They chose you above all others.”
The children wore their best outfits: shirts (momentarily) tucked in, hems of dresses forever being swished and swooshed by tiny hands, pretty bows and hair uncomfortably parted. When siblings–natural born, adopted siblings, who knew, who cared–matched, it sent a special wave of joy through the air. Indeed, they belonged together.
“Patience and love will prevail,” Judge Williams promised, after listing the names of adopted children who had lived to become some of history’s most storied names. Caesar, John Lennon, Stonewall Jackson, Alexander Hamilton, Gerald Ford, Steve Jobs… the gaps for breath between famous names filled in, energetically, with the names of the children squirming throughout the room. Time will tell which of them will become great, but for today, being saved was enough.
“You are chosen. Keep saying those words,” said Debbie Johnston, Virginia’s Adoption Champion, once an adopted child herself. “There’s nothing these kids in the room can’t do with the right mentorship. Those words will keep your children going time after time.”
In Norfolk alone there are 70 children waiting for foster parents, said Tasha Simmons, who works for the City of Norfolk. She preached patience for those who go through the PRIDE training classes. As long as you don’t have what she called “a criminal barrier,” you’re likely to be eligible to be a foster parent. Stipends range from $462 to $680, but the money, of course, isn’t the point. Responsible, loving, in my opinion heroic adults are particularly needed to take in older children and siblings.
The celebratory speaker was Tracy Keller, CEO of The Girl Scouts of Colonial Coast. She was in her mid-30s when she became a foster parent–and a parent, full stop–for the first time. It started with a 4-month-old baby girl. “The joy in our hearts ran abundant from moment one,” she said. “She was precious and perfect, and we treated her as such.”
To the Keller family’s surprise, the baby’s grandmother in California passed her training and was deemed fit to take in the child. Keller was heartbroken. She’d call the agency office every day; eventually her pleas, and cries, to keep loving this tiny human she already felt as kin were passed on to an intern. “You better have another baby for me,” she demanded on a particularly emotional day. “How about twins?” the intern responded.
The twins were temporary, but she knew that going in. After that were five children, all siblings, two boys and three girls. Their ages? Get this: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. They were only supposed to stay for the weekend. “And the longest weekend of my life began,” Keller said.
The children had problems, ranging from impulse control to ADHD to separation anxiety to OCD. One of them became emotionally unstable when she learned her real parents weren’t returning for her, and had to be given back to the state to protect her siblings. But nobody goes into being a foster parent–or a biological parent, right?–expecting easy. Hard is growing up in a group home. Hard is aging out of the system with no permanent family to support you. Hard is becoming homeless without anyone to call. Hard is a kind of loneliness–a true sensation, and knowledge, of how alone one is–few among us would be strong enough to overcome.
“Our social worker was like our medicine man,” she said. “My dream of becoming a mom was granted.”
At last Johnston and State Senator Kenny Alexander were called to the front, where they greeted the newly minted permanent families with certificates. Over 750 children were adopted throughout the Commonwealth last year, 23 in Norfolk. Many of them were in the room today. There were wide eyes in front of the cameras and the crowd. Toddlers as calm as jumping beans. Toothless smiles. Those matching outfits. Children up to their new parents’ knees proudly holding up their documents like travelers to Oz who had been in search of the homes they finally, finally found.
Simmons led the group in reciting their pledge. “Today we are joining together as a permanent family. Through good times and bad, we agree to share love and respect and to provide for each other’s needs.” She had everyone read it twice. They’ll be living it the rest of their lives.
To learn more about becoming a foster parent in Hampton Roads, The Up Center can help. Click here.