My heart was racing as we walked to the front door of the foster home. I could hear the roar of children inside. With much anticipation, Tony and I knocked and could feel the rush of excitement in the air. Inside were two children: JJ, 3, and Elijah, 8. JJ rushed toward Tony and jumped up into his arms. Elijah sat very close to me. I don’t know if they completely knew that our lives would be changing forever. We would become a forever family.
Today, there are lots of ways to build or create a forever family, from public or private adoption, which includes both domestic and international placements, to surrogacy and in vitro fertilization.
Tony and I choose the foster-to-adopt program administered through Hope Cottage, a program called PRIDE training through Texas Child Protective Services (CPS). The program certifies parents and homes to be able to foster and/or adopt children. The intense classes took us through the process of how to protect and care for children that have been removed from their biological homes.
After the home visits, background checks, CPR training and three months of classes, we received our certificate to be foster parents. Now we could choose parameters for the child we were willing to welcome into our home. We did not have anything specific in mind, only that we were not looking for an infant.
If you are looking for a very specific child, you might be waiting a while to be matched. The program matched us with two children, half brothers, in a few months. We had checked a box on the application indicating that we were open to adopting siblings. Checking that box accelerated the process; CPS has thousands of children looking for forever families, many in sibling groups.
We received our certificate in May 2007 and were matched in July. CPS took about five months to gather and copy paperwork, court records, police reports and more before we were able to see a picture or meet the children.
In December 2007 we finally visited the foster home and met the boys. After that meeting, we traveled to Fort Worth every weekend to visit them. On March 28, 2008, the boys were able to officially move into our home as our foster children. We consider this our “Gotcha Day” in the adoption process, and we celebrate it every year. But the children had to live in our home for six months as foster children before we were able to do the first adoption. Then we had to schedule a second parent adoption six months after that so we could both be formally recognized as their parents.
My husband Tony always knew he wanted children. He is a great dad. Raising children takes lots of patience and he has an abundance. I, on the other hand, was less sure children would be in my future. Having patience? Not so much for me. I have always been a great uncle, a fun uncle. But as a dad I was less equipped. I would get them all excited and then struggle to calm them down for bedtime.
To get to a place of acceptance was a learning process for me. I had to look inside myself and understand what was important to me, take stock in where I was. I do not think I could have adopted children when I was younger. I have found what I really wanted was to make sure my life counted, that I stood for something. It was also important to me to give back. When it came to having children, I had to look inside and evaluate how I felt about where I was at personally with myself and about the enormous task of raising children. I also understood that I needed to be prepared. As an Eagle Scout, I have learned that being prepared is highly important. However, when it comes to adopting and raising children, it is hard to adequately prepare no matter how hard you try.
The boys are now 18 and 22, and I have loved having children and molding these young minds, watching them grow from little children to young men. Over the years we have witnessed a tremendous transformation in both our children and in ourselves.
The most important thing we have learned, perhaps, is that building a forever family takes time, self-assessment and commitment. Whatever path you decide to take, make sure that you put in the work and prepare to be the best parent that you can be.
Leo Cusimano is the founder and president of Dallas Voice.