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What is Adoption Anyway?


To some, adoption is the sweet smell of a newborn baby in your arms, to others, the salvation of a child from the foster system. To my family, it was the adoption of a 25 year-old mentally and physically handicapped adult by the name of Bobby. In the late 50’s, the shroud of secrecy that surrounded the handicapped still existed. Like many, Bobby was isolated, denied even the simplest form of education.

Bobby was born a blue baby, meaning the cord was tied around his neck at birth and he was left without oxygen. The damage done to his tiny body left him mentally and physically handicapped. Ashamed, his family kept him in the house, allowing him little interaction with others.

By the time Bobby became an adult he could barely speak, and when he did talk, few could understand him. As he grew older he became harder to keep at home. Bobby took to walking the streets, enjoying his time out of the house. One day, over 45 years ago, he strolled into a liquor store in Hayward, California.

Don and Audrey Carroll, my in-laws, owned that small liquor store. My father-in-law handed Bobby a broom and allowed him to sweep the debris from the store, earning quarters for candy. Then, after studying Bobby for a while, my father-in-law realized that Bobby wasn’t quite as handicapped as most people thought.

Don and Audrey began to work with Bobby. They taught him to slow down his speech, making it easier for people to understand him. They discovered Bobby had an innate ability to count change and he was soon working the register. After a time, Audrey and Don, along with their two small children, Dennis and Terry, moved to Fremont. Bobby, at age 25, was devastated to say good-bye to his new family.

Audrey and Don couldn’t bear to leave Bobby behind, so after being granted guardianship, Bobby moved in with Carroll’s and became a brother to Terry and to Dennis, my husband. Mentally, Bobby is about 12 years old and he will be 12 forever. He played cowboys and Indians with Terry and Dennis. He rode his bike with them, explored the orchards around their home, but more than anything, Bobby finally had playmates, children to love and children that loved him back.

Together, Terry, Dennis, and Bobby, watched Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and sadly, Bobby watched as Terry and Dennis grew into teenagers, leaving Bobby forever behind. Though growing up is natural for some, it was hard for Bobby to say good-bye to the boys as they left childhood and became men.

Then, as Dennis and Terry took wives, Bobby had their children to play with. Karen, my sister-in-law and I, would watch as our children rode bikes with Bobby and played with his toys. Karen and I would join in the fun by attempting to steal Bobby’s wallet and having him run down the street chasing us, laughing all the while. The joy we have shared with Bobby is boundless and forever, a warmth in the heart that will never go away.

It’s been over 45 years now and Bobby is 70. He sometimes plays with the grandchildren, and even sometimes rides his bike. He’s almost totally deaf now, is completely bind in one eye, has diabetes, and numerous other medical ailments, but that doesn’t stop him from being 12.

The doctors said Bob wouldn’t live beyond the age of 35, yet he’s nearly doubled that. My father-in-law has passed away and my mother-in-law is 75 and can barely care for Bobby anymore. He lives part-time with Dennis and I and part-time with Audrey, though to be truthful, this year anyway, he seems to want to be with Audrey more and more. But soon that will have to change and Bobby will become a permanent part of my life.

For all the joy that Bobby has given me, there are times when he’s cranky, times when we get tired of helping him into the car, or helping him to put his shoes on. My sister-in-law, Karen, will help us care for him full time. As he grows older there will more challenges to face and overcome, but each time you see that 12 year-old twinkle in the eye of a 70 year-old man, the laughter can be nearly overwhelming. Especially when he gives you a Twinkie filled with shaving cream.

My mother-in-law, God bless her soul, has given up more in her life for Bobby than one can count. She has passed over trips with her friends to care for Bob, even a marriage, and more. She has selflessly fed him, clothed him, and cared for him, loving him as much as her two sons.

I think of all the laughter Bobby has brought into our lives, how he has taught us to think of one thing at a time, even if that one thing is staring at your feet for hours. He takes each day as it comes, rarely worries, and loves nature with a passion. Bobby lives in the moment and sees the world eternally through a child’s eye.

So, what is adoption anyway? Is it a legal paper with a judge’s signature on it, the incorporation of an infant or child into someone’s home, or perhaps just a term in the dictionary?

No, adoption is none of those things.

Adoption is born in the heart and lives in the soul.

Adoption is love.

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