Tuesday, November 2, 2010

completed event or ongoing process?

I am regularly asked if our little guys are adopted.  I don’t mind the question and I understand the intent, but I always wonder:  Is ‘adoption’ a term describing a legal event or is it a word used to describe an never-ending process?

My boys WERE adopted.  It was at one time an on-going process—the paper gathering and submission, the wait, the travel, the legal work.  That is over.  My boys ARE my children.  In the eyes of the law, they are Kassebaums now and forever.  And when people (well intentioned, I know) ask me if my boys ARE adopted, I used to answer “No, they were adopted.  We’re finished with the process.  Now they are ours.”   Why I stopped, I don’t know.  Watching Ryan this week, it’s maybe time to go back to that reply.

October 31 2005…Ryan’s adoption was final.  In a Chinese civil affairs office, we signed the paperwork, put our fingerprints (or in Ryan’s case, his handprint) on it, had everything notarized and translated, and it was finished.  Yang Fu Tao officially became, in that moment, Ryan Joseph FuTao Kassebaum.   His adjustment over the last 5 years has been mostly smooth.  He’s a delightful almost 6 year old who knows he is loved and wanted.  Somehow, though, every year in late October, our happy easygoing boy becomes a frightened clingy child.

This year was no different.  In many ways, it was the worst October ever.  Things here are busy.  Maybe busier than ever.  Jim’s been more committed this fall, with less time for the boys.  (He’s been the JV volleyball coach at Tori’s high school.)   He’s been dealing with several crises at work.  Brent’s had a tough fall.  Emily moved to college and Hailey is living at home and commuting to UW this fall, so we’ve been trying to adjust to a ‘new normal’ around here.  Nicholas (my nephew) has been very sick and in the hospital.  His treatment has opened the door to some discussions about heaven and death.  (Ryan and Logan know that Nick is very sick, that the doctors are doing their best to make him well, and that there is a chance that their cousin will go live with Jesus.  We haven’t seen any need to try and hide these things from them.  It is real.  It is a topic of conversation here. So they are aware, to the best of their understanding, how things are going.) As a result of all this, Ryan has been more clingy and weepy than  ever.

He has always struggled a bit with going to sleep.  He doesn’t like the dark.  He doesn’t like being upstairs when the rest of us are downstairs.  He wants Mommy with him.  Most of it isn’t a big deal, and 90+% of the year we give hugs and snuggles, promise to check back in 5 minutes, and he goes to sleep without further ado.  Not so in October.  As the month wears on, the sleep issues get worse.  By the end of the month, it’s really bad.  Every year.  But he’s never been able to verbalize well what he feels.  This year we heard new things.  Hard things.  Things like “Are you really coming back?”  “I am afraid you are going to leave me on the steps like my China mom.”  “I know you said you’d come back but I thought my China mom would come back too.  And she didn’t.”  It’s heartbreaking to see him in such pain and fear.

The night of Oct 30 was the worst.  He fussed and cried.  He screamed.  I held him for a long time.  He came downstairs and sat with us and cried.  We snuggled.  I ended up curling up with him in his bed and holding him most of the night.  He slept poorly—tossing and turning and crying out.  I was not looking forward to Oct 31, thinking that he would be so tired it would be another bad day.  Wrong!  He got up cheerfully.  He was pleasant all day.  He had a wonderful time trick or treating, then when bedtime came, he crawled in without a fuss and went right to sleep.  Last night was the same.  It’s like someone flipped a switch.  We’re grateful for the return to normal.

Each year, we work through another layer of the trauma associated with Ryan’s adoption.  Again, 90+% of the year it’s not even an issue.  This year was very hard, but I think we made major progress.  As I watch my boys, I think again that maybe it’s time to be pro-active about reminding them that their adoptions WERE and that they are forevermore Kassebaums.  Warts and all.  :)  We are here to stay. 

So, are my boys adopted?  No.  They were, but legal process is complete.  They are Kassebaums.  Always.


  1. I'm sorry Ryan has had such a hard October. I hope it was his last hard October.

  2. Jennifer, I love this. I love the language distinction. In a writing class this summer, I wrote an essay about my fam/youngest sister who WAS adopted 20 years ago and about the Before & After.

    While the angle of that was different, I have to go back and see which verb I used, see how it changes the story. I'm learning more and more how Family is both an IS and WAS, an ARE and a WERE, both a becoming and something finished. This certainly added to that. Thank you for writing this.

  3. Thanks Leah! It's good to know that someone understands what I'm trying to say.