Ryan’s sisters…

As I mentioned in this post, Ryan has a bit of a complicated back story that includes having two half-sisters that were adopted by another family. We don’t get together with them nearly enough, but we do meet with them once or twice a year. This past weekend, Ryan was having his last soccer game of the season, so his younger sister (she just turned 12), and her parents (Don and Laura) came to watch. The oldest sister is 21, and she has moved out of her parents’ house and did not make it, but Sara and I are both friends with her on Facebook.

Don and Laura live about 45 mins away from us, and they had some difficulties getting to the game on time, so they were not able to catch any of the game itself, but we did all go for ice cream afterwards. It was really nice to be able to sit and talk with them, and let Ryan spend some time with his sister (although I’m still not really sure if he completely understands the whole situation). Sara and I both (not to mention Don and Laura) think it is incredibly important for Ryan to get to know, and have a strong bond with, his sisters. Both of them really seem to enjoy seeing and talking with him, too.

We got thrown a bit of a curveball this time, though. I mentioned to Don and Laura that Sara and I were friends with the oldest daughter on FB, and that it seems she was doing well. She is set to graduate with a four-year degree from a pretty good university, she has a steady boyfriend, and a steady job. We also knew that she had moved out of their house.

Don and Laura started telling us, though, about how the last few months had been “a living hell”, and that things were “not good” with Sharon. Sara and I were stunned. We both looked at each other and I could tell that all sorts of things were running through both of our minds. Ryan and his sisters all have the same mom, but different dads (as far as we know). So we were thinking, maybe Sharon was taking drugs, or was sleeping around. Or maybe she was stealing things, or had gotten pregnant. Considering her background and the fact that Sharon and her sister had been removed from their mom’s custody about the time Sharon was 10 or 11, the things that could cause her parents to say they were going through “a living hell” could have been anything.

Sara and I were bracing for the worst. I asked what was going on, and Don starts talking about Sharon having a boyfriend, and that she had been “drinking” and “smoking”. He explained that she was also living with her boyfriend. A friend of  Sharon’s and her boyfriend were living there as well. She also had been pretty much lying about all those things for a few years.

Don and Laura are an “older” couple, and they are both very religious. Now, I don’t want to belittle the things that Sharon did. Underage drinking, and smoking, are not “good” things. They are also not, in my and Sara’s opinion, “a living hell”. I think Sara and I both were stunned just because we were expecting “more”. Sara even said at one point, “What else has she done?” Don just looked at her like he didn’t understand the question. Sara went on to say (half-jokingly), “I guess I was lucky that I lived in a different state than my parents when I was doing all those things.”

I know different parents have different expectations for their children.  I also know that Don and Laura grew up in a different time and place than their daughters, but if the occasional drink of alcohol and the occasional cigarette, are the WORST things that Ryan (or any of our boys) do, I will consider our parenting to be exceptional. Especially if our boys are about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree (a year early) and planning on going to grad school. In fact, to me, the worst thing Sharon did was that she lied about what was she was doing. Under the circumstances though, and seeing how Don and Laura reacted, I can understand her hiding those things from her parents.

I don’t ever want my boys to think of me as their “friend” before thinking of  me as their parent, but I also want them to understand that my love for them will not change because of the things they do, or the choices they make. I want them to always know that they can tell me ANYTHING and my love will always be truly unconditional. That doesn’t mean I will always like or agree with their choices, but their choices are theirs to make. I can only raise them the best I can and help them make the best choices possible. Everything else is out of my hands.


Ryan’s Story

Me and Ryan

Telling Ryan’s story is not easy. Not that his start was any harder or easier than Colin’s, but it is more…complicated. He was born to a mother who had been in and out of jail several times. She had two daughters that were removed by CPS and adopted by another family, but they were an older couple who did not wish to “start over” with a new baby. The fact that Ryan’s half sisters had already been removed by CPS is the main reason placing him in care when he was born. Ryan was originally placed with a different foster family who intended to adopt him. That family was later shut down for reasons of which we were not made aware.  

At the beginning of that year (2006), I told my wife that I was going to give foster parenting one more year, but at the end of ’06, I wanted out. We wanted to adopt one more child, but if it didn’t happen by the end of that year, I was prepared to move on. Wendy had begun getting sicker, and the emotional toll of bringing children into our home only to lose them later was beginning to weigh heavily on both of us (especially Wendy). Colin was our 18th child in 4 years. Ryan would be number 23 in 5 years.

The Friday before Colin turned 2, we got a call from our family caseworker, Regina (not her real name). She knew we had an opening, so she said, “Hey, I’ve got a little football player for you!”

Regina knew how much I loved football and she knew we were getting near our breaking point as foster parents. Ryan was a stocky little 1.5 yr old with the biggest brown eyes you’d ever seen. He was just a really cute kid; still is, actually. She told us CPS was about to close down Ryan’s current foster family. She said they needed a placement for him fast, and that he would more than likely be adoptable (though you never know with CPS). That was the clincher for Wendy. We took Ryan in to our home (at the time, his foster family was calling him Jeremy, but his birth mother originally named him Brendon). We didn’t like any of those names, so we changed it to Ryan (he looks more like a Ryan anyway).

For about the first month he was with us, we weren’t sure that Ryan could speak at all. He mostly just grunted and made other noises with his mouth. Turns out, he had a pretty severe speech delay (that he has almost completely overcome now, with the help of speech therapy). He also wasn’t the happiest of all children. Who could blame him? In 1.5 years, he had been in three different families (birth, and two different foster families, counting us). The poor kiddo didn’t really know what it meant to have a “stable” home life. Literally 6 months and 2 days later (a foster child has to be in your home for 6 months to be eligible for adoption), we adopted Ryan on National Adoption Day 2006.

This is where things got even more complicated. It’s hard enough to explain it to myself, or Ryan, let alone a stranger reading this blog. In his young life, Ryan lost his biological mother, a foster family, and an adoptive mom all within the span of less than 3 years. At the time, the only “stable” adult in his life, me, was overcome with grief and depression. Ryan did pretty much the only thing he could do in the situation. He started acting out.

The only other kid in his life that he was able to use as a role model was Colin. Since Colin was such a handful, I had to spend most of my time just making sure he wasn’t doing something he wasn’t supposed to (like leaving the house while I was asleep-another story for another time). Ryan learned that the best way to get attention was to follow Colin’s lead. By the time I met Sara, Ryan was having a lot of behavioral issues. He was probably very close to being diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder. He had a real mean streak to him sometimes, and he just flat out refused to follow directions when he didn’t feel like doing something.

Credit Sara for really sticking it out with Ryan. Today, about 2 years after coming into our lives, Sara has helped Ryan become a completely different child. He has really started maturing and growing into a great young man who is making A’s and B’s in school, and rarely ever has less than a “green” (or good) day at school. He recently became the first kid in his class to pass the reading portion of a standardized test the district gives. I am so very proud of him, and the turnaround he has made, but really, Sara should get most of the credit here.

Now, in mid-2012, our little family is beginning to blossom beautifully. We are pretty much the definition of “blended family”. Sara and I are both on our 2nd marriage, Colin and Ryan were both adopted, and Robbie is my step-son (who I will adopt sometime soon, hopefully). Ryan also has half-sisters who we keep in touch with pretty regularly, plus I keep in close touch with my first wife’s family (they absolutely adore Sara and Robbie). I don’t think we would have it any other way.

A “special” child

It’s hard to know where to start with something like this. I want to tell my and my family’s story, plus I want to make it interesting for someone who comes across this page, but I also don’t believe I need to tell EVERYTHING about my life up to this point (it would take too long anyway. I’m 41 years old, for goodness sakes).

Since I want to kind of focus on a lot of the challenges my wife and I face with raising our three diverse children, I’ll start with the child that is our focus for oh, around 80-90% of our day: Colin.

Colin’s life started in a very rough way. True to his form, though, he proved himself to be a real fighter. He was born to a biological mother who was a prostitute, and I believe, hooked on drugs. Colin was put into the foster care system after a CPS worker found him, at five weeks old, in an apartment with no electricity (it was June, in Dallas, TX). His bio-mom rarely changed his diaper despite neighbors giving the young woman free diapers, and when he would cry because he was hungry, she would stuff peanut butter in his mouth to make him stop. This was despite the fact that the same neighbors who gave her diapers, also gave her formula. She just refused to take care of him, and left him in a car seat with no cover or padding.

So, at five weeks old, a severely malnourished, but seemingly happy, Colin (then known as Jessie-father unknown, by the way), was delivered to me and my first wife, Wendy. Soon after, Colin’s bio-mom was never seen, or heard from, again.

We noticed fairly early on that Colin was having some developmental delays. He did not sit up unassisted until he was almost a year old. He would not, or could not, sit up to drink a bottle. In fact, feeding issues dogged Colin for the first few years of his life because as a newborn, he learned that if something solid was in his mouth (like the peanut butter his bio-mom stuffed in his mouth), then he better not swallow it because he could choke to death. He was smart (and a survivor) even then.

So, with the help some wonderful therapists from Early Childhood Intervention (ECI), and another group called Therapy 2000, Colin was hitting most of his developmental goals by the age of 2. Even then, he showed a great talent for memorization by mastering matching games and putting together puzzles that were designed for older kids. I remember asking his therapists and doctors (mainly because of his receptive speech delays) if they thought he could be autistic, but they answered they didn’t think so because a) he was pretty verbal (in fact, he rarely stopped talking), and b) he did not do the stimming so many people associate with autism.

To her credit, one of my good friends, Amy (a school psychologist) said she thought he might be autistic and tried to push me to get him tested. By that time, though, I was dealing with the death of my first wife (more on that later), and I decided that I would listen to Colin’s doctors and therapists. Besides, who wants to hear their child is autistic, especially while in the grips of depression and grief?

Not long after I met Sara, she really started pushing me to get Colin more testing (he had already been diagnosed with pretty severe ADHD). We ended up taking him to a Developmental Pediatrician who confirmed the autism diagnosis in August of 2010. It was a pretty big blow at the time. All of a sudden I started picturing all of my hopes and dreams for Colin (baseball star, academic excellence, grand children) going down the drain. It really hit me like a ton of bricks, despite it being something I already knew in the back of my mind anyway.

The truth of the matter is that none of those things were lost, and the diagnosis of autism did not change who Colin is as a child. He is still the lovable, goofy, smart, sensitive, frustrating, kid he has always been (and always will be).