A green to love them


The festivities are already underway when we arrive at the police station. The Department of Children and Families welcomes you! the sign says, pointing us to the community room. Come in and have some FUN! We’re excited and nervous. Our first adoption party. The next step on our long road to parenthood.

There will be lots of kids to meet, our social worker Karin tells us. But don’t forget about the case managers. They’re the ones who place the kids. They’re the ones who make adoptions happen. Get to know them.

A bored looking teen hands us nametags. They’re color-coded for more efficient networking: prospective parents wear green, case managers gold, and kids looking for homes wear red.

We walk into what looks like the world’s biggest birthday party. Streamers droop sloppily from the ceiling, crayon artwork hangs on the walls. Pizza and soda is being distributed. Music is blaring. A cheerful clown twist balloons into bracelets and hats, drawing attention away from the room’s harsh lighting and sour smell.

The adults, at least a hundred of them, stand clustered in pairs and small groups. They look like us: 30- and 40-somethings in baggy sweaters and faded jeans, baseball caps and running shoes. A sea of middle class white faces dressed in their Saturday suburban best. On the other side of the room, 40 or 50 kids have been corralled into a play area — kneeling on the floor with action figures and shabby dolls or sitting at tables littered with Legos and splintered crayons. Adorable toddlers, precocious five year olds, bright and eager eight year olds. Most of them some shade of brown, each of them a ward of the state, all in need of permanent homes.

We chat with the other green-tagged prospective parents, and the conversations are all the same. Where are you in the process? How long have you been waiting? What type of child are you hoping for? We size up each couple and wonder if they’re the ones to beat. Do they make more money than us? Live in a better neighborhood? Tell more magical bed time stories? When the perfect child comes along, will we get the call, or will they.

It’s not a contest, we can hear Karin telling us. It’s about what’s best for the child. It’s always about what’s best for the child.

But it is a contest. And like everyone else, we’re playing to win.

We introduce ourselves to gold-tagged case managers and share with them our deep yearning to become parents. They tell us about the children they’re trying to place: 10 year olds, five year olds, pre-teen sibling pairs. What are our limits? they ask. Would we consider a child who’s epileptic? Bi-polar? How about one with sickle cell anemia or a touch of diabetes? We’re not judging, they promise us. We just need to know what you’re looking for — where you’re at. They smile politely when we tell them we want a healthy child, the younger the better, no older than three. We’ll keep our eyes open, they tell us. But plan on waiting awhile. Everyone wants the healthy kids. Everyone’s looking for a young one. Then they wish us luck and move on. For every gold nametag there are at least five greens. There’s no time for small talk.

We feel deflated. We feel selfish. So many children in need, right here in this room. What gives us the right to a healthy infant? Shame on us.

You not doing anyone a favor if you adopt a child because you feel guilty, Karin has told us more than once. It’s not about guilt. It’s about finding the child that’s right for you.

We head over to the kids’ area. Red-tagged children play while green-tagged grown ups circle: scanning, evaluating, considering. When they find a child they like they say hello and join in. They help make castles out of Legos or elephants out of clay. Then they move on. They’re comparison shopping, checking out the merchandise. Taking a test drive. Maybe this is the one, we imagine them thinking as they make eye contact with a child. Maybe this is the missing piece of our puzzle.

The kids know why they’re there. They want a green to love them, and they understand the competition is fierce. So they smile and giggle and play with anyone who pays attention, with anyone who might give them a shot.

It’s a petting zoo. A flea market. A clearance sale. We’re horrified and repulsed.

These parties can be tough to take, no-nonsense Karin had warned us. But it’s just the way things are done. Nothing’s easy when you adopt from the state.

A bit later, sitting in the corner with cold pizza and warm orange soda, we calm down. We’re overreacting, we tell each other. If this party gets even one child into a good home, then it’s worth it. We need to believe in the process — we need to believe that it works.

That’s when we see him — a boy, standing alone, slouched against the wall. He’s 13, maybe 14, overweight and unattractive. His heavy eyes scan the room, begging someone to return his gaze. Please, just give me a shot, they say. I know that I’m older and kind of screwed up, but I promise I’ll try. There are so many people standing so close, but none of them are paying attention, most are pretending that he’s not even there. He’s just a boy that nobody wants, wearing a red nametag no one will admit they see.

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