Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives. 

What Will Life Look Like for Him at 21?
By Julie Cowan

Our son Kyle, who we adopted at birth, turned eighteen in February. While most eighteen-year-olds get ready to fly with independence, Kyle’s life ahead is one of uncertainty.

Recently, we had to go to court to establish guardianship, as Kyle will never be able to make decisions for himself. I wrote about his physical and cognitive impairments six years ago for this series. You can read about our adoption experience here.

In June he was graduated from a high school special-needs program. Now he has three years in a transition program ahead of him. Three years for us to decide what life for him will look like when he’s twenty-one, after the routine of school is done.

It might be shared housing with young adults his age, caregivers, and possibly a small job. What we know is that at fifty-six and fifty-eight, we can’t physically care for him forever. We’d be doing him a disservice to not provide him with daily social and peer contact.

Last year in school, he did some greeting at Trader Joe’s and was a big hit. With his smile, he got great feedback. He would hit a vocal switch for example, that said “welcome to Trader Joe’s, get your pumpkins $2.99.”

One woman said she planned her shopping trip when she knew he would be there, because she loved his smile so much. That melted my momma’s heart!

As has been the case for a number of years, both physically and emotionally, he is hard to take care of some days. Physically because he is 154 pounds now and wheelchair-bound, and he needs almost total care.

The hard part emotionally is that as he’s aged, the seizure medication or brain abnormality has caused him to scream more. It’s worse now with social distancing and online school. It’s difficult to hear the screams and it wears on us. We as parent caregivers continue with periodic counseling to help us handle the stress.

Along with him turning eighteen, it came time for the end of our legal agreement with his birth mother to send letters and pictures. She has had no contact with us since he was one year old.

Our letters and pictures were never returned from the post office box, so we assume she was still receiving them. Many times, I struggled with my fierce mother’s love “well if she doesn’t want to respond or know him screw her.”

My husband has always been more even-tempered and compassionate, and he wanted to maintain the connection, so I continued to send letters and pictures year after year, hoping they brought her some happiness. When he turned eighteen, I wrote her a final letter, letting her know it would be the last one she would receive unless we heard from her, asking for further communication.

I wrote to her about how there was one day when Kyle came home with an unsigned note in purple felt pen in his backpack. It said, “Kyle the world would be a better place if everyone was like you!”

I told her, “K, I’m sorry you chose not to know him, it has been a privilege to be his parents. He is a very special young man.” And so, there will be no future relationship for him with her. Something we’d hoped for so long ago with “open adoption” but didn’t happen.

Kyle is still handsome, funny, loves the Seahawks and Huskies and HGTV. He also obsesses about Taco Time, and he still adores his younger sister, Hayley.

We continue to experience a very positive open adoption with Hayley’s birth family. At fifteen, she texts and writes with her birth mom T and birth grandma and occasionally birth dad. Pre Covid, she spent time with them each summer the last few years.

She has enjoyed the opportunity to meet extended family. A year ago, she was able to meet her half birth sister, who is seven years younger than she is. They had a special couple of hours together.

So, when Hayley launches at eighteen, she will have had a solid start at maintaining those relationships with her birth family. We couldn’t be happier!  As we say, “more people to love her!”

Bio: Julie Cowan works as a nurse. She, Randy, Kyle and Hayley live in Bellevue.

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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter