May is National Foster Care Month. This is also the month six years ago our then-foster son, who was 2 years old and has Down syndrome, moved in with us.
We had known about Thorin for almost 5 months before we meet him. We had one photo of him and a few emails giving us a tiny window into his life. And, like all parents, we had overwhelming anticipation. Minute-by-minute, we saw into the future our lives becoming one life.
Most people meet their child for the first time in a delivery room. Ours was introduced to us in the reception area of a single-story administrative building located in a business park alongside warehouses.
Ward and I stood anxiously in the gray waiting room with Cathy, his foster care worker, his guardian ad litem (G.A.L.) and a foster care supervisor.
It wasn't too long before Carol, Thorin's current foster mother, walked in with a very small boy in her arms. He peeked at us over Carol's shoulder, where he was burrowed. I can still see his profile against Carol's sweater: our gorgeous boy with blonde hair and blue, almond-shaped eyes, a little squished nose and a shy, sweet smile. His soft fist was resting on his chin.
Thorin became the subject in sharp focus and everything, everyone in the room, a blur. I could hear appreciative murmurings faintly from the others.
What do you say the first time you meet your 2-year-old boy? You want to say, "I love you! I can't believe this is happening!"
But that, without a doubt, is going to freak out a child who doesn't have a clear idea of who you are. How do you explain to any child what a parent is? How do you explain to a child that has already had two sets?
We were ushered into a conference room. I kept my hands pressed against the table's edge so I wouldn't float away. For the first several minutes, everyone sounded like they were talking underwater. The blaring in my head drowned them out:
THIS IS MY SON! THAT'S MY KID! I LOVE HIM! I LOVE HIM SO MUCH! IN FACT, I LOVE EVERYBODY! YEAH, I LOVE THE WORLD!
How did they expect us to behave normally? Sure, doling out kids was old hat to them: "OK, here's your kid you have been dying to meet. You probably haven't been able to think of anything else but this moment. But, please ignore your out of body experience; it's time to talk turkey."
The meeting started off focusing on why we wanted to adopt a child with Down syndrome. The G.A.L. was fairly direct: "Why you would want to do this? Why do you think this is for you?"
"We just know he's the one!," I offered enthusiastically.
"Can you be more specific than that?" she asked non-enthusiastically.
"Well, it doesn't seem like an issue..." I said, looking at Ward for more words. I knew that sounded insufficient. A foster child with Down syndrome wasn't a deal breaker for reasons I couldn't articulate in that moment. (For more on that story read "How We Came To Have a Son With Down Syndrome." )
I was concerned about what Thorin was following. I had been a mother for about five minutes and I had already failed our son. Were we underestimating his age or his intellectual capacity by not even considering he could understand?
Thorin edged out of Carol's lap onto the table. He pushed himself the couple of feet over in front of Ward and me. He sat, Buddha-like, moving his eyes from one of us to the other. It was clear we were being vetted. I thought, My kid has balls!
That delighted me to no end.
After going over all the legalese and signing a million forms, Carol and I set up the visitation schedule. We would visit him at her house over the next few weeks in preparation for him moving into our home. The first visit would be the following day.
Ward and I both tried to drag out the meeting with questions. It was if we were on a terrific date and neither of us wanted to say goodbye.
Cathy took pity on us. "I still have a little time. Do you want to take Thorin to lunch?" she asked, "Carol and I can supervise."
At a McDonald's down the road, we were chaperoned discreetly. Ward and I sat with Thorin alone at our own table while Cathy and Carol sat a few feet away.
Our first conversation with our son was about food.
"Do you like the pickles?" I asked
He shook his head no.
"Well, let's get rid of those, Buddy," said Ward as he pulled them off.
"Do you like ketchup?" I asked.
He nodded yes.
"Lots of it then, right?" said Ward
Later, we reluctantly said goodbye in the parking lot, "See you tomorrow! We can't wait to see you!"
The urge to hug and kiss him was great for both of us, but how would he feel? We loved him -- in fact I ached with love for him -- but he hardly knew us. So instead, we both waved like maniacs, which I am sure was no less weird.
That night, Ward and I stayed up late talking about Thorin. We were in agreement he was the most-best-greatest-kid-ever.
Kari Wagner-Peck writes on disability and typical life at her blog: a typical son. You can follow her on Twitter @atypicalson.