We interrupt this coastal lifestyle blog for a little bit of real life!
This is “Part Two” of a very long post about our Adoption Story. (For anyone who may have missed the first part of our story, click HERE to read it) if you were directed here from Part One of the story, please read on…
Victors first four years-
Victor was born on a hot summer night in downtown Tampa, FL. He was born premature, cocaine positive, and weighed a mere 4 pounds 14 ounces. Victor’s biological mother (and grandmother) had struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol most of her entire adult life; she had 4 other children by other fathers all of which had been removed from her care several years before. Victors mom had listed her current boyfriend as his biological father on the birth certificate, but very little is known about him, since they separated not long after he was born.
I can only imagine what his first few months were like after he was released from the hospital to go home, but his records indicated that less than 8 months later, he was found living under an interstate overpass with a homeless man. Victor was immediately removed from his moms care and placed with his “biological” father, who was no longer involved with his mom. During this time, Victor was assigned a Guardian Ad litem – a volunteer court representative named Ed to help manage his case. His mom entered rehab and worked on getting her life together and seven months later they were reunited. The reunion didn’t last long, though; the records showed that the courts removed him several months later when his mom attempted to commit suicide while he was asleep in his crib. This time, he was placed in the care of an adult half-sister. Unfortunately, this placement only lasted three months and he was removed from her care due to ongoing domestic violence. Victor was next placed in non-relative care (it seemed no one in his immediate biological family was able to care for him) so he went to live in the home of his elderly step grandmother and her husband.
This was Victors fifth move in four years, in his short turbulent life, he had already been exposed to drug abuse, homelessness, domestic violence, and God knows what else. Not long after Victors placement with his step grandmother, his Guardian Ad Litem decided a paternity test should be done and it was discovered that the man listed as his father on his birth certificate was not his biological father…questions were asked and several other men were tested, but no one tested positive. It is believed that Victors true biological father could have been a man linked with his mother several years ago, that had recently died in prison and therefore could not be tested. So the true identity of Victor’s real father is still unknown.
Victor’s new placement seemed to be going well for a while. There was an older boy in the home who had been adopted by his grandmother and there was a small dog who Victor loved playing with. He seemed to like the daycare he attended and was making friends. Mr. Ed, his guardian ad litem kept up with regular visits as did a state-appointed therapist who did regular counseling sessions to monitor his adjustment and progress. After a few months though, Victor’s daycare reported that he was complaining about bad “whoopings” at home. When Mr. Ed inquired, the family became difficult to work with and visitations were awkward. Mr. Ed decided to do a little more homework on his current caregivers and discovered that the man of the house was a convicted felon, and had been released from prison just a few years before, where he had been serving time for murder. It didn’t take too long for Ed to figure out that this was probably not a good long-term placement for Victor either!
At this point in Victor’s story, Mr. Ed decided enough was enough- it was time for Victor to find a permanent home with a stable family and a real shot at a good life! Mr. Ed worked with his biological mom to terminate her parental rights and then worked with the courts to have Victor officially available for adoption. Victors step grandmother was hopeful that they could adopt him, just as she had done several years prior for her grandson, but based on her current husband’s prison record and the allegations of physical abuse, it just was not going to be an option. Mr. Ed had come to the sobering realization, that if Victor was allowed to stay in his current environment the chances were very high that he would turn out like everyone else in his family: on the streets, on drugs, in prison or dead- this was a very sad reality for an innocent four year old boy!
Victors First Night-
When I opened the door and saw Victor standing on our front porch, the sweet smile on his face showed no signs of the turbulent instability of his first four years…if anything, his smile was happy and he seemed excited to be at our home. We had read Victors story in a mountain of court records and police reports, and heard about his history from his case workers, therapists, attorneys and Mr. Ed. If Victor had come from a disturbing and troubled past…no one told him!! Victor was sweet, happy-go-lucky and seemed ready for a new adventure.
After his entourage left (more about them later) we all sat down to a family dinner at the kitchen table, just like we do most every weeknight, but this night was VERY different- we had just added a whole new person to the family, a little person we had never even met before. It was a very surreal evening to say the least; it was almost as if a complete stranger had just showed up on our front porch and come in for dinner…well, actually, that’s exactly what had happened!
I had ordered pizza for dinner that night, not knowing what he liked to eat, I kept it safe- I mean what kid doesn’t like pizza? I also had a tray of mini cupcakes on the kitchen island which Victor had spotted shortly after his arrival and kept asking about…he kept wanting to know IF he could have one, and WHEN could he have one, and WHAT FLAVOR he could have- I quickly came to realize that those MINI cupcakes were a BIG deal for Vic, and I was so glad I had gotten them!
Another important thing I soon realized was that boys eat more than girls. My daughters were 12 and 9 at the time, and Victor was only 4, but he could easily eat BOTH of them under the table…so it was a good thing I had ordered 2 pizzas for that night. I made a mental note that our grocery budget would be increasing and I would probably have to start doubling all my recipes!
We observed a few other things at that first meal together- Victor had never said a prayer before, so we taught him to hold hands, bow his head and close his eyes while we blessed the food. He also had pretty decent table manners- he said please and thank you and passed items to others. We also learned that he was NOT SHY, which was a good thing; because no one in our family is shy. He kept up with our conversation, giggled easily, and seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.
Since my oldest had arrived home from school late that day, and everyone was busy welcoming Victor to our home, I had not had a chance to chat with her yet. Towards the end of our meal, I asked her how her day was and she said fine. That’s when Victor spoke up.
“I had a good day too” he said in between bites, like he had been a part of our family forever…We all nodded and smiled at each other, it was good to hear him chime into the table talk. He continued, “yep, I’m glad the bad folks dint get me today, because I was gonna have to fight ’em!” He said casually as he took another bite of pizza.
My jaw dropped and almost hit my plate…my mind was racing… I looked at Greg- were WE the “bad folks”? Was he planning on fighting us today? What was going on here? I looked around the table and the girl’s eyes were as big as saucers. I proceeded carefully and tried to act nonchalant when my oldest asked, “Victor, are WE the bad folks?”
“No” he said as he took another huge bite of pizza, “y’all are the FAMILY”. Then shot me a big smile. I breathed a sigh of relief, I was so glad we cleared that up, and I was really glad that he didn’t have to fight us on his first day! Evidently someone from his previous home or school had given him the impression that some “bad folks” were going to come and “get him” and he would have to fight them, but luckily for us, Mr. Ed and his case worker and therapists were also preparing Vic for his new home and “forever family”.
After we all finished our pizza, I brought over the tray of cupcakes and Victor got very excited, it was finally time for those cupcakes! He took his first bite and mumbled a loud “uummm” then proceeded to tell us several times how delicious it was. Cupcakes became a fast favorite of his (and they still are!) So we all ate our cupcakes (I think Vic may have had 3) and celebrated the fact that the “bad folks” didn’t get him, there was no fighting and he had finally found his “forever family”.
Dinner went pretty well, once we had determined that Victor was not here to fight us, now was the part I was dreading- how do we get this little guy to go to sleep? I mean, how comfortable would you be spending the night in a home you had never visited with people you had never seen before? Add to that you are an energetic 4 year old boy who had just eaten three cupcakes!
According to the one book I had read (actually skimmed- remember, I had less than 24 hours to prepare for all of this) they advised parents to start off the way you intend to proceed, so I thought I would try to give him a bath or shower, get his pjs on, brush teeth, read him a book and say goodnight. I quickly learned that this would be more difficult than I knew.
Victor refused to take a bath or shower, so I let it go, he did wash his face and brush his teeth like a pro! I gave him the choice of new pjs or some old ones I had found in the plastic bag he came with, he chose an old pair of Spongebob pjs that he had brought from his old house. We sat down on the bed and I grabbed a book to read to him, but he couldn’t sit still for more than 10 seconds- much less listen, it was pretty obvious no one had ever sat down and read this little guy a story. So we opted to watch a show on TV to try and settle him down, but he was still very wound up. By wound up, I mean running all around the playroom like a little wild man, jumping on the sofa, jumping off the sofa…I was beginning to wonder if this is what extreme ADHD looked like, and if I was prepared to handle this kid for the rest of his life! (Note to self, the next time we adopt a child we have never met before- no cupcakes before bed.)
After a few more attempts of settling him down, I decided it was really time for bed. I told Greg and the girls that we were ALL going to get ready “to go to bed”. We all got our pjs on and said goodnight then turned all the lights off in the house. This way, he didn’t feel like he was the only one! After several unsuccessful attempts to get him to sleep in his new room (he didn’t want to be alone) we finally decided that it was ok if he slept on the floor in our bedroom downstairs…with big Beau (our 100 pound yellow lab) right beside him…he really liked Beau and I think he felt a little less scared. Beau had taken a liking to Victor right away, so we figured it would be fine.
Beau, our huge, ferocious-sounding-teddy-bear of a dog somehow missed his calling in life, you see I think he should have been one of those “comfort dogs” you see on TV that are called in to assist humans in dealing with traumatic events. Beau has a sense about people and knew that Victor needed him. He laid down on the floor right next to Vic and Victor patted his head until he finally fell asleep.
Victors First Few Days
I woke up early the next morning as I always do, only this morning I was surprised to find a little boy curled up asleep on the floor next to our giant yellow lab at the foot of our bed. I guess it wasn’t really a surprise, but the reality of our situation had still not fully sunk in- everything had happened so fast, I was still feeling a little whiplash.
I went upstairs to wake up the girls so they could start getting ready for school, by the time I had gotten back downstairs to make some coffee, Vic came out of the room dragging his blanket behind him and rubbing his eyes.
“Good morning Victor,” I said sitting down on the couch, he climbed up next to me and I cuddled him up in his blanket.
“Good morning, mom” he said sleepily.
My heart melted and a tear came to my eye. That was the first time he had called me mom! I had wondered what he would call me, and if he would call me mom. For a week or two his therapist and case worker and Mr. Ed had told him that he was going to be adopted by a forever family and have a real mom and dad and two sisters, so I guess he had understood all of that. The elderly couple he had lived with before us was called “Mr. and Mrs.” and I have no idea what he remembered or knew of his biological mom.
I held him close in his blanket for a few minutes and soon came to learn that this child loved being held, hugged, cuddled, tickled-any kind of affection and attention, he soaked it up, couldn’t get enough. I realized it’s because he was making up for lost time, his first four years had been so unstable, he may have even experienced a lot of neglect and missed out on that crucial love and physical affection that babies and toddlers need. Well, that would not be a problem for him at this house!
Greg came out of the bedroom and sat down with us to chat, soon the girls came down to say hello- everyone wanted to say good morning to the newest member of the family and Victor had fun being the center of attention. The girls wanted to skip school that day to stay home and play with their new little brother but we insisted that they go. Greg and I had cleared our work schedules for that day and decided to spend the whole day getting to know Victor better and getting him settled in.
I had in fact cleared my work schedule for the entire rest of the month; the plan was for us to keep Victor home with me every day for the first month then if all went well, transition him into our local Preschool. The therapist recommended a technique called “cocooning” where you and your family and your new child stay very close to home, no travel or big events or parties, basically just keep things very simple and spend as much time bonding with each other as possible. The idea is to encourage attachment, which is a strong feeling of emotional and physical connection. Attachment is what happens naturally between biological children and parents, but it has to be recreated for adoptive families. How fast adoptive children attach can vary, and depending on what all the child has been through, some kids even develop attachment disorders. We had no idea what to expect from Victor in regards to his ability to attach, but we were going to do all that we could to encourage a strong bond.
The girls reluctantly left for school. So far the only thing we had planned for that day was Mr. Ed was coming by to check in and say hello, other than that, we decided to wing it. Word had spread fast in our little community about Victors arrival, we were so blessed over the next few days with many donations of boys clothing, shoes, toys, car seats, bikes, and sporting equipment…remember, we had two girls and only 24 hours to prepare for this little guys arrival.
One dear friend down the street with two boys was especially generous and stopped by that morning to drop off a child sized basketball hoop- the large gift was an instant hit with Victor. He had come with a basketball and we soon discovered that he liked to play, so we set the hoop up on our back patio and he dribbled around and shot hoops for a while. Mr. Ed came by and we all chatted, he showed Mr. Ed his new hoop and his “dunking” skills. Unfortunately, the large plastic basketball hoop did not make it past his first day, Victor’s enthusiastic slam dunks broke it within a few hours- but we were soon blessed by a replacement hoop a few days later from some dear family friends and I am happy to report, Victor is still enjoying it (although we have had to limit his slam dunking to preserve the life of this hoop!)
After Ed left, Greg and I took Victor up to the neighborhood playground and let him swing on the swings, slide and run around. As we watched him play we were both struck by his open, easy manner. He wasn’t afraid to try anything. He wasn’t shy either, he was kind and friendly to everyone he met. Over the next few days and weeks Victor met ALOT of new people. In fact, he had become something of a celebrity in our small community- everyone wanted to meet him, and he really liked all of the attention. After the playground we picked up lunch at MAC Donald’s, (that is how he pronounced it) we took it home and ate lunch on our back patio.
Although everything was so new for him (and us) there was an unexplainable underlying naturalness to our new situation. For some reason, having Victor in our hearts and our home felt completely natural to me! I really feel the Lord had blessed our decision to adopt, we waiting on His timing, and He had brought us the perfect little addition to our family. We somehow had a peace about everything.
We quickly learned that just because you have a peace in your heart about things doesn’t always mean your life will always be peaceful! In fact the next few days were anything but peaceful- the constant stream of visitors and well-wishers meant doorbells, dog barking, neighborhood kids and quite a bit of chaos. One of the craziest things that happened the first week Victor joined our family was the passing of my younger daughters beloved Guinea Pig, Cinnamon.
Cinnamon had been a thorn in my side since the day he arrived. I am a dog person, and prefer dogs to any other type pet. Please take no offense at my next statement, but I have always thought that Guinea pigs, hamsters and gerbils look more like rats than cute, cuddly pets! But after months of pressure and pleading, I finally caved and let my daughter get a Guinea pig. So we purchased the cage, supplies, food and set everything up in her bedroom, after all, she wanted this to be her very own pet in her very own room. But as usual, her pet became MY problem- cleaning the cage, feeding, watering, managing the foul odor that emanated from her room- there was nothing “fun” or “enjoyable” to me about Cinnamon.
Shortly after Victors arrival, one afternoon was particularly nuts- in the middle of cooking dinner, with a houseful of kids, the phone rang and it was Vic’s case worker trying to set up a meeting, at the same time the doorbell rang with a friend wanting to meet Victor and drop off some clothes and toys- in the middle of the chaos, my daughter and her friends rush to the front door. ALL the girls were crying and Hannah was holding Cinnamons stiff, cold, lifeless body in her hands. It was a very disturbing sight.
“Cinnamons DEAD!!! She wailed, as all her friends burst into tears again. Vic’s eyes were huge as he looked on. My mind raced, on the one hand I was devastated for my daughter and upset…on the other hand, maybe this is a blessing in disguise! We had just added a new member to the family (a human member) with more work and responsibilities for me, maybe the good Lord knew I needed a little less on my plate for now.
We quickly found a shoebox for Cinnamons body, organized a proper burial and memorial service and attempted some intensive psychotherapy for our daughter and her friends. I was afraid that the dramatic passing of Cinnamon might scar Victor emotionally, but he handled it with his usual resilience. He even showed quite a bit of compassion and empathy for his new sister.
If I was worried about Cinnamons death impacting him emotionally, I had no reason to fear…several months later while flipping through photos on my phone, we ran across a photo of Hannah smiling and holding Cinnamon the day she brought him home from the pet store. He looked up at me with a puzzled look on his face and said- “I didn’t know Hannah had a RAT?!” It was safe to say he was NOT emotionally damaged by Cinnamons death!
Since we were adopting Victor from the state of Florida foster care system, he had been assigned quite a large team of state workers to oversee his care and wellbeing. Victor had a case manager, two attorneys, a child therapist, Mr. Ed (his guardian ad litem) – and those are just the people we had met! On our team was our adoption agency representatives and the state had also assigned us a family therapist to assist in our transition.
While I am truly grateful for this team of well-meaning, hardworking individuals, and I am truly grateful that kids like Vic have adults that are working for them and have their best interests at heart…we had to meet with many of these workers on a weekly basis as they assessed Vic’s progress and helped make his transition easier, not to mention obtain all of the documents and items needed to finalize his adoption. These weekly meetings were time consuming and disruptive, but necessary to be able to complete his adoption process.
We felt Victor’s assimilation to our home and our family was going fairly well, though it was not without natural issues. One issue was getting him to fall asleep; he insisted on sleeping on the floor of our bedroom and did not want to be alone because he would get really scared. He even told me about nightmares about a certain person from his past. When I asked who he was, he said he was a big boy who used to beat him up. I assured him that this boy would never be able to find him here, and that he was safe.
He also revealed some disturbing information about his 12 year old “brother” from his previous home. Turns out he was not a very positive influence to say the least. He also told us about the “whoopings” he frequently received from the Mr. and Mrs. To this day, he has a disliking for belts and I don’t blame him! When we asked Victor about if he missed his old house and family, he said no- the only thing he missed was Smoky his old dog.
During the first month I stayed home and cocooned Victor so we played a lot! I played more basketball and football during those few weeks than I care to admit. It was funny, Victor had received many gifts and toys from friends and family, but he could’ve cared less about most of them, all he wanted was a ball!
One of his favorite “games” was when he would run around; pretend to collapse and lay motionless and “unconscious” for a few moments, and then I would rush to his rescue- scoop him up, make a big fuss and tickle him to bring him back to life. It was a funny little game, evidently he enjoyed being rescued!
Another thing he really enjoyed was when he pretended to be a baby and I would hold him and rock him and sing him a lullaby- again, I think he was making up for all the hugs and cuddles he had missed out on during his first four years.
All of these silly little games and all of the time spent together were helping him attach emotionally with me- and I was quickly attaching to him! Things were going well, I even got him to settle down long enough to sit and read a book together. We started with a few classics like Corduroy and Where the Wild Things Are…pretty soon, Victor couldn’t get enough story time and wanted 2 or 3 books at a time…pretty good for a kid who couldn’t sit still longer than 10 seconds the first day he was with us!
One day while meeting with his therapist, she asked him to give her one word to describe how he was feeling about everything at his new home, the word he chose was “steady” I thought it was an interesting word choice and the therapist thought it was a good sign that he felt safe and secure and loved. During another visit, Victor was playing outside, fell and scraped his arm, he ran over to me crying. I kissed the boohoo, gave him a hug, he calmed down and ran off to play again. I didn’t think much of the incident, but the therapist said it was a great sign that he was attaching very well. I child who got hurt and was not attached would have not come to show me his booboo, or they may have come and become hysterical crying, unable to be soothed, but the fact that he came to me for help, I helped calm him and then he was able to return to his playing showed he trusted me and felt secure in himself to return to his activities.
I believe that while the first few weeks of concentrated time together was valuable to Vic’s ability to attach to me, but I give most of the credit to Victor and his resilient spirit, his little heart was open and ready to attach to someone, he just needed the opportunity. I praise God that He chose us to be this remarkable little boy’s family!
Greg and Victor
While I was busy the first few weeks cocooning, cuddling, coddling and attaching to Victor, Greg saw it all as rather silly. My husband was a US Marine Veteran, an avid sport fisherman, a real guys guy- he thought all of this was babying him, and while he understood the importance of Vic bonding and attaching with us, he was determined that Victor would not grow up to be a wussy!!
To say we butt heads while parenting our new son is an understatement. We had usually been in perfect agreement on raising our daughters, but things were different with Victor- I wanted to baby him and go soft on him, because of his tough background and Greg believed tough love would be more effective so this kid wouldn’t feel like he could get away with whatever he wanted.
When I was struggling to get Victor to do something, Greg would sometimes step in and take over. One night, Greg announced that Victor was going to start sleeping in his own room, in his own bed- Greg wanted to get our bedroom and lives back to normal. I had tried several times previously, with no success to get him to sleep in his room upstairs, but Greg wanted to handle it. He sat Vic down looked him straight in the eyes, told him he had a nice room, a comfy bed and that it was time he be a big boy and start sleeping in there. Vic started crying but Greg scooped him up and carried him up to his bed. The crying got louder and Greg told him, he could cry all he wanted but he was a big boy and we loved him and he needed to sleep in his own room, he shut the door and left him crying. The crying lasted for several minutes and I couldn’t take it so I went in and tried to console him. When that didn’t work, Greg told me to leave him alone, the crying continued, until finally Victor cried himself to sleep, ( ps. so did I!)
The next morning Greg and I congratulated him on being a big boy and sleeping in his room, in fact we all made it a huge big deal, cheering and high fiving, Victor was so proud of himself. We told everyone we saw that day how he was a big boy now and Victor beamed with pride. The next night he cried a little less and the third night he didn’t cry at all!
Another situation Greg’s tough love was very helpful in resolving was getting him to play basketball on a new team. Victor loved basketball and was quite good at it, so we decided to enroll him in a local youth league. Victor did well in his first practice, but the morning of his first game, his team took the floor and the buzzer was so loud in the gym, he must have jumped 3 feet in the air…you see Vic was used to “street ball”, no clocks or whistles or buzzers or cheering fans- it was all a little overwhelming for him and the buzzer scared the bejesus out of him. He literally froze on the court, players were running all around him and playing the game, the coaches were yelling at him to run, and then he covered his ears with his hands and ran crying to the bench. I went over to check on him, he refused to play the rest of the game, and refused to take his hands off his ears. My heart broke for him, poor little guy, it was all too much for him!
After another game or two of Victor refusing to play and covering his ears on the bench for the entire game, Greg wasn’t having it. Victor loved basketball, he was really good at it and he loved his practices and coach and teammates. He just needed to learn to cope with the loud gym and noises of the games. Greg decided he and Vic would drive down to the game early, and the girls and I would go in a separate car. On the way down, Vic and Greg had another one of their “man to man” talks, Greg explained to him that he was a good player and his team really needed him and not to worry about all the noises in the gym. He also told him that he was going to play in the game that morning whether he liked it or not, and that he was going to do great!
When the girls and I arrived, we were happy to see Victor smiling, laughing, and not covering his ears and ready to play in the game. Greg had a way of challenging Victor to do tough things. In the end I have come to the realization that all our kids needed both coddling AND tough love sometimes, and I am so thankful that I have a husband that understands that too!
While integrating Victor into our home and family, Greg had secret hopes that he would love fishing, since that is a huge passion of his. I tried to caution him that Vic may NOT like fishing, not everyone does- I would even tease him and say what if he really likes DECORATING? We had no idea what this kid would like or not like! Well, I am very happy to report that Victor does indeed like fishing, correction, LOVES FISHING! Maybe more than Greg does…which is a great thing, because those two guys fish together almost daily and have so much fun. For a kid whose biological father is unknown, I love that Victor has such an amazing adoptive father and positive male role model in his life…he couldn’t ask for a greater dad!
Vic and the Girls
Obviously, a big part of our adoption story is how the addition of this little 4 year old boy affected our two daughters. Just like how Greg and I had to navigate a new normal, so did they! We had held many family meetings prior to his adoption, and the girls were both very excited to take this on as a family- but as we all know, sometimes our dreams look very different when they become reality!
I thought the best way to share with you all their experience was to ask them to write about it themselves. I have their permission to share their stories with you all:
“When I met Victor it was one of my most memorable days. I found out the day before he came and was a bit nervous. To be honest I was really scared and I don’t really know why because I’ve been a good big sister for 9 years why am I so anxious to meet him!? Then I realized why, my sister didn’t have a choice to be my sister and bond with me she was just in that situation but Victor didn’t have to like me, he could completely shut me out. But wow I thank God that is not the way it happened.
On the day he came to live with us I can remember my car pool was late and I just wanted to jump out of the car and run home myself at that point because by then had been home for at least thirty minutes. Finally after getting out of the car I ran up the porch to the door. I took a deep breath and thought to myself this is it! I’m meeting my new brother so I opened up the door and walked in casually. By casually I mean my hands shaking and knees knocking as I try to act normal. As I turn the corner into the kitchen my heart melted when I saw Victor I said hello and was really excited to get to know him!
The next day I came home from school and Victor ran up gave me a big hug to greet me at this point all my anxiety went away. To this day Victor has been a constant blessing in my life and I am so happy and grateful to be a part of his life! He is such an amazing boy and is so lovable. I am also grateful that my mom got to write his story down for you to read! I have enjoyed reading her posts and remembering this happy, crazy, and amazing experience! I want to thank her for letting me share my part of the story with all of you!”
– Hayley (age 13)
“Hi! I’m Hannah, I’m ten years old, our family adopted Victor a little while ago. Becoming an older sister has its ups and downs, and being a middle child has its downs and a little ups. Turns out I became the middle child overnight. Everyone is always fawning over Victor and sometimes I wish I had more of the attention. I love Victor very much and he is an amazing little brother, but sometimes I miss my alone time with my mom and dad.”
– Hannah (age 10)
As you can probably see, Victor’s adoption has had a big impact on our daughter’s lives (both for good and bad). My younger daughter was the most excited member of the family prior to Victor’s adoption, but in many ways, it has been the hardest for her. I wanted to be as transparent as possible with our story and she is still adjusting to the addition of her new little brother (remember- all of this literally happened overnight), so keep us in your prayers. We are learning that sometimes the hardest things in life are the very things that make us stronger and better, and we have faith that everything will be ok.
Beau and Victor
I would be remiss to not write about the very special and unique bond between Victor and our dog, Beau. Both were adopted when they were four years old- Beau from Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida, and Vic from the State of Florida Foster Care System.
Both guys had turbulent first four years- (you already read about Victor’s life prior to his adoption) Beau had been bitten by a water moccasin on the nose while just a pup and had hip replacement surgery for a bad hip when he was three.
Vic took to Beau like a flea to a dog, pardon the pun. While they got off to a rocky start on the first day- Beau’s loud barking and large size had initially scared Victor, every day since they have been like peas and carrots. Just like a true comfort dog, Beau slept on the floor next to Victor for the first few weeks in our bedroom, which helped comfort him and helped him feel safe and not lonely, and then when Victor transitioned into his room upstairs, Beau would often sleep on the floor next to his bed. Beau likes Victor so much; sometimes I will even find him napping upstairs in his room while he is gone at school.
Both Victor and Beau love to run and play ball, if only I could train Beau to throw the ball for Vic I would get a break. Victor is super competitive and swears he can run faster than Beau, but every time they have a footrace, Beau seems to win! Both Vic and Beau have sweet, compassionate spirits and an amazing resilience. I call them my brown eyed boys and love their special friendship!
Many New “Firsts” for Victor-
Since we knew so little about Victor, we never knew what kind of things he had done in his past life, it’s safe to say he had many new things to experience in his new life with us, and it was so interesting to see our ordinary lives through his eyes!
I remember the first Sunday we took him to church with us, we were getting dressed and ready and all got in the car when he asked us who had died- since that was the only other time in his life he had gotten dressed up and gone to church! Unfortunately in his short life, we came to discover he had already attended quite a few funerals.
Another thing we soon realized was that he had never been to a pool, or a beach or been swimming or on a boat, and since these are all activities we enjoyed on almost a daily basis, we really needed to get him swim lessons. As usual, Victor exceeded our expectations it helped that he had no fear of the water and after 5-6 lessons was getting around the pool very well! Victor also discovered that he REALLY loved boats and boat rides…the faster the better too! I loved that Victor was adventurous and fearless…he also loved roller coasters.
Although Victor had been transported by cars in the past, it was still a very new thing to him. No one in his previous life had owned a car, and his only car rides had been with state workers, and once with a teacher. I practically spend half my waking hours in a car, chauffeuring carpools, going to and from sporting practices, games and lessons, so Victor suddenly started riding in the car a lot! At first, Every trip in the car felt like an eternity to him, but he soon discovered headphones, DVDs, and the iPad, which he took to rather quickly. Obviously, these things were also new to him, but they really helped make his frequent rides in cars more enjoyable!
Another new thing was breakfast, he told me he never used to eat breakfast, so we introduced him to cereal and yogurt and bacon and eggs- bacon became his new favorite-go figure!
You have probably heard of the “Five Love Languages “, well I believe there is a sixth one, and it is called FOOD. In the first several weeks at our home, Victor tried many new foods. I have to confess, my two daughters had always been picky eaters, so cooking for Victor was a pleasure, he would try anything and liked almost everything, not only did he like my food but he was an enthusiastic, generous and gushing food critic with nothing but praise. I still believe that the best way into a man’s heart is through his stomach, no matter what his age!
Our family celebrates Taco Tuesday on a weekly basis, over the years this was a go-to meal that everyone loved, so we have made it a cherished weekly tradition. One week I decided to try making a new recipe called Taco Casserole. It was a humble dish, but Victor proclaimed that night at the table it was the best thing he had ever eaten in his entire life (Never mind that he has only been on the planet for four and a half years, I took the compliment happily). He ate half the pan of taco casserole went on and on about how delicious it was and gave me a huge hug- forget all the psychology books and professionally trained therapists, that was the night I knew for sure that Victor and I had been officially “attached”!
A New Preschool
The time had come to enroll him in our local preschool. He had been attending a daycare in his previous placement, but I’m sad to say at the age of four and a half, he knew none of his alphabet, numbers; much less could he hold a pencil and write his name. In our community, most of the children his age had been in preschool for years and were even starting to read! We were concerned about how he would perform academically, since he was so behind and especially since he would be eligible to start kindergarten that fall.
A good friend of mine worked at our church preschool and recommended that we try to get him into MS Shirley’s class. “MS Shirley’s the best!” she told us, and we pulled a few strings to get him in. I took Victor by the preschool one day during recess, so he could play on the playground, meet the students and MS Shirley. While he was playing I filled her in on his story and our concerns about him being behind. Victor was a leftie and as a lifelong righty, I had struggled to help him hold his pencil and learn to write. MS Shirley informed me she was a leftie too and could really help him in that area! MS Shirley confessed to me she had never had a student quite like Victor…we both wondered how he would do academically, socially and otherwise since he had been through so much and was still so new to us! We just decided to have faith and see what happened.
The Sunday before he started his new preschool I went to the store and purchased him a little lunchbox. As I was unpacking groceries and other items, he spotted it and asked about it.
“Is that a lunchbox?” he asked.
“Yes, I got it for you for school tomorrow; you will need to take your lunch every day.”
He grabbed it, hugged it, and started jumping up and down excitedly.
You bought it for ME?? Thank you, thank you- mommy!
He gave me a big hug.
My first thought was ‘who knew he loved lunch boxes so much?’ My next thought was that he had probably never had one before. He had probably gotten free lunch at his daycare every day and never needed a lunchbox. Either way, he was so excited and proud to take his little blue lunchbox to school the next day, he forgot to be nervous or scared, and for that I was grateful!
Victor wound up doing very well in preschool. Ms. Shirley reported he was very bright and catching on to things rather quickly. We also determined that he was pretty well-behaved and rarely got into trouble. He made friends rather quickly. I was especially relieved to find out that Victor was not considered ADHD. Many children that are born cocaine-positive show signs of ADHD, and there is also a very high percentage of children from the foster care system that test positive for ADHD, Victor was no doubt very busy and active, so I had my concerns. I was happy to hear he could sit still during lessons and follow directions and had pretty good self-control.
Towards the end of the school year, Vic brought home an invitation to a “Mom, Me and Tea Party”. All the moms would come to a tea party at school and the students would perform a song. Every day for two weeks Victor would remind me about the tea party and performance. He was so excited about it! Over the years I had attended so many similar events with the girls, but neither of them had ever gotten so excited about these parties.
When I arrived at the school for the tea party Victor greeted me with a huge hug and then took me around and introduced me to many of his teachers and friends. His enthusiasm was so sweet and as I took a sip of my tea, and watched him singing on the little stage it dawned on me why he was so excited- Vic had never had a MOM before! I think he was excited to have a real mom at his Mom, Me and Tea Party. He had been separated from his birth mom when he was young, and probably didn’t know much of her, then he had lived with several extended family members, but none that he called “mom”, I was the first mom he had ever known. As I watched that little boy smiling, waving and singing his heart out on the stage, my heart became flooded with love for him.
That is not a typo. I did spell it “Gadoption” that’s what Vic called it, so that’s what we celebrate every year! As I write this, we are approaching the one year anniversary of Vic’s Gadoption Day. So much has happened in that year. We are so grateful for everything! I have heard so many different stories about adoption and foster kids-some successes and some horror stories. While Victors story is far from over…he’s only 5, but we couldn’t be more pleased at his progress and resilience this first year.
We have all had some adjustments to make and lessons to learn through all of it, but we are happy to report that our family is stronger and closer because of this experience!
Vic’s adoption day was a bit of a blur, all our family and several friends came in town to attend the hearing at the courthouse. Many of Victor’s entourage and state workers were on hand as well, they all said that attending adoption hearings were the best part of their job, and they all have heartbreaking jobs sometimes!
As usual, Vic was happy for all of the attention. The hearing was a big blur to me, we snapped a few photos with family and the judge and it was over…This little guy we had only met 4 months ago was now our official “forever son” and it couldn’t have felt more natural to me! You see, by the grace of God, I knew he was supposed to be my son the day I first laid eyes on him!
I’m not sure how this process goes for most people, I can only speak for our story, but things happened VERY quickly for us. There were days even after his official adoption I would be driving in my car and catch a glimpse of him in the backseat in my rear view mirror…I would think to myself, we really did that! We really adopted a 4 year old boy!
One day not long after Vic’s Gadoption, we were riding in the car together on our way to pick up the girls and Vic piped up…
“Mom- what day is today?”
“Today’s Tuesday, buddy”
“YESS! He said with a little fist pump- “Taco Tuesday!”
I had to smile.
“Are you making taco casserole tonight?” (For Victor, the only thing better than Taco Tuesday was Taco Casserole Tuesday!)
“Yes, I’m making taco casserole tonight.” I said
There was a long silence, I was waiting for him to get even more excited, and then he said softly,
“Mom- I’m glad I’m in this family.”
Tears filled my eyes as I tried to focus on the road.
“I’m glad you are too, buddy!
I want to be very clear with you all right now, I don’t know why we were called to be adoptive parents, I don’t know why God chose Victor to join our family, and I don’t know if I have the strength or wisdom to handle every challenge that will surely come our way in the years to come. What I do know is that God works in mysterious ways and he uses ordinary people every day to perform extraordinary acts of love! Don’t be afraid to be open to Gods will and calling for your life…He may just take you on an incredible adventure outside of your comfort zone!
To God be the Glory!!