Often in our celebration of all the beautiful blessings that come with adoption, we fail to acknowledge the many losses that also are tied to it. For a child to land in a position that makes them free to be adopted a loss had to preempt it. For some children the loss, or the series of heartbreaks leading up to an adoption are greater than others, but every child’s adoption story contains an element of loss.
This is true for both of my boys.
Both had a tragic beginning filled with neglect, abuse, loss and heartache. Both were in unsafe situations. Both deserved a better life than the one they were living. In both cases CYS and the judges involved knew that they needed removed from their birth homes. It was 100% the right call. But even with all of that there is a feeling of sadness at the heart of both of my boys, who grieve the loss of the life they once had.
For both my boys, the loss of their biological siblings is a huge part of that sadness. While they lived as victims of abuse and neglect their siblings were their allies, their confidants, their safe place in an unsafe world. In Tyler’s case his siblings also became his saviors.
Tyler has four biological siblings. He is second to the youngest with his sole sister younger than him. In his early years it was those three older brothers that made sure he got food, that took extra hits in an effort to stave off some of the abuse directed at their younger siblings, and who comforted and held him when they were all locked in a closet together. Tyler’s brothers were not only are his siblings but his hero. They may have even saved his life. When Tyler was only two years old, his two older brothers (ages 8 and 6 at the time) took advantage of an opportunity to escape and they fled the house. Police discovered Michael and Brandon walking down a busy road, carrying their little brothers. It was winter time and Tyler was just wearing a diaper. That act of heroism led to an investigation that revealed all the horrors happening behind closed doors and resulted in the five of them being removed from the home.
Tyler and his four siblings ended up being placed, and eventually adopted, into five different homes. When we came into the picture. Tyler and Brandon were the last two that hadn’t been adopted. At that point the siblings had all lost contact from each other, which set me on a mission to find them and reconnect them for Tyler’s sake. A few years ago we were able to get all five of them together for a picnic at our house. What an amazing day that was as siblings, separated by court rulings, miles, and years, finally came back together. Since then we try to get them all together a couple times a year but inevitably a few can’t come or end up canceling at the last minute.
This year as we were planning Tyler’s birthday, we asked him what he wanted for his birthday and he replied, “All I want for my birthday is to have all my siblings together…all 8 of them!” Tyler’s inclusion of Grace, Molly, Rusty and Ozzie to his list of biological siblings warmed my heart. It is crazy to think that Tyler does indeed have 8 siblings.
This got the ball rolling, as we made plans to get all his siblings together for his birthday. The first order of business was to choose a venue. Because of the disconnection and awkwardness that comes from not seeing each other for a year we thought it best to plan Tyler’s party around an activity rather than a dinner. I know Tyler does better in emotional situations if he has a physical outlet for his nervous energy, and I thought his siblings might be the same, so we planned Tyler’s birthday party at Flight Trampoline Park. My thought was that they could interact and catch up while playing together, making the entire experience less threatening for all involved.
As the event neared, Tyler’s excitement grew. He couldn’t wait for his special day. He couldn’t wait to see his biological siblings. Then the calls began to come in as siblings had to RSVP their regrets. One by one we heard back from each sibling, expressing their regrets that other life obligations kept them from being able to attend. I understood. Life happens and trying to coordinate 5 different families’ schedules is next to impossible, but Tyler was crushed.
Then we heard from Michael, and Michael (Tyler’s oldest brother) said he was coming and couldn’t wait to see Tyler.
Now I had three empty slots in my 10 jumper reservation and was looking for warm bodies to fill the spots that were left vacant by Tyler’s sibling canceling. Tyler wanted to invite some of his friends from co-op or church, but I hesitated doing that because I wanted to make sure Michael and Tyler could connect and catch up and I didn’t want Tyler’s attention split between his brother and friends, so instead we invited the Hudaks to join us, since they are like surrogate siblings to Tyler anyway!
It was a perfect solution. Tyler had Michael to jump with, Rusty had Lucas, Molly had Olivia, and Ozzie and Michael’s little sister jumped together.
We arrived Monday night a half hour before the party was scheduled. Our sweet party planner took over, handling the decorations, confirming our pizza order, collecting gifts and handing out the jumping socks for the kids to wear.
She was awesome and I had to do NOTHING all night. It was lovely.
They even allowed us to begin jumping a half hour early since the crowds were low. Since we had an open jumper slot Toby joined the kids on the trampolines.
At 6:30 Michael’s family arrived. Tyler couldn’t believe how tall his older brother had gotten. Michael is now 17 years old and 6’3″ inches tall.
It was a delight to see the two of them together. As disappointed as Tyler was by his other siblings being unable to come, I think perhaps it was a gift. It gave Tyler a unique opportunity to bond with his oldest brother, who he sees least often.
At the trampoline park there were different play areas.
There was a huge open jump area with trampolines lining the floor, where the kids could jump and do flips.
There was a laser obstacle course that was like something from a spy movie, where players moved through a dark room filled with lasers and tried to navigate to the other side without touching them. It was a race to beat others’ times.
There was a American Ninja Warrior obstacle course comprised of four different courses that players tried to move through without falling or touching the ground.
And then there was the Dodge Ball court where Michael and Tyler spent most of their time playing together. Like Tyler, all of his siblings are incredibly athletic and competitive, and they had a blast playing dodge ball together.
At 7:30 our time on the trampolines were over and we moved upstairs to the party room, where our sweet party planner took over and served up pizza and drinks to the kids while the adults enjoyed some time to visit.
After pizza came cupcakes, as we sang to Tyler and watched him blow out his candles.
Then Tyler opened his gifts. The Hudaks gifted him with birthday money which resulted in Tyler excitedly declaring, “I’m RICH!”
And Michael’s family gave him two new board games. Tyler also received a special gift just from Michael: a Steeler’s football. Perhaps the greatest gift came in the form of the birthday card that Michael wrote to Tyler which read:
“Happy Birthday, Tyler. I love you so much. I always think about you. If you ever want to talk to me you can call. I hope you had a great birthday. Love, Michael.”
It was such a special evening. We were sad that not everyone could join us, but perhaps it was all part of God’s plan. Tyler had a special night connecting with his oldest brother… his first, and greatest, hero.
At the root of adoption is heartbreak and loss,. To not acknowledge that is a tragedy. There is no way I can take that heartbreak away from either of my boys, as much as I’d love to. All I can do is commit to them that I will do all I can to restore some of that loss through moments like this. I can’t give them back their old life…I wouldn’t, for their sake…but I can grieve with them for their loss, hold them when they cry, acknowledge that adoption is born of tragedy, and help them hold onto the safe parts of their past that are important to them…like the siblings that love them.