T's adoption finalized earlier this week. It was both quiet and momentous. It took us three years and twelve court hearings to reach this point. Sometimes I wasn't sure it would ever happen, and sometimes I didn't really care - it seemed like, legal or no, we were actively his parents and perhaps the formalities didn't matter. But when the day finally came, I think we all found it more affecting than we imagined it would be.
We barely spoke about it beforehand - T has been pursuing adoption for more than six years, so there wasn't much need. The night before, just to make sure, I wrote him a letter and posted it on his bedroom door, reminding him what would happen the next day and telling him how, in my mind, it just formalized what we had already made true, and how much I love him and feel proud of him. He snatched it, read it, and went to bed without saying anything.
When we got to court the next day, it was clear that he was not ambivalent or moody, as I had expected. He was happy. Often, his happiness is what catches me most off guard, and it did that day. He had a beautiful shy smile all through the ceremony. This smile only appeared over the past year, and it is really a showstopper. When it came time for him to sign the adoption agreement, he fairly glowed, and signed his name with a special cursive signature including his middle name that he had been practicing. When the judge asked us if we'd like to pose for pictures with her, he didn't hesitate. He stood proudly in the center of the photo, holding his "Certificate of Family Membership" as they call it in our state. He even let me sneak in a hug and a fist bump. Afterwards, we went to IHOP to celebrate, and by midway through our meal, he was back to normal teenage behavior, absorbed in text messaging his friends and spitting wads of paper at me through his straw.
I found the process profoundly moving. The courtroom, where we have been so often to fight various battles with the bureaucracy, seemed transformed. The atmosphere was dignified and respectful. Usually, we sit off to the side, and the table at the front of the room is a mess of overstuffed files and piles of paper. This day, we sat front and center, and the table was clean and clear, with only our two-page adoption agreement at hand. At the end, after reminding us all of the legal rights and responsibilities that derive from adoption, the judge said "This case is now closed," and shut the folder on 17 years of paperwork documenting a tortuous childhood. Born into the foster care system, he was finally done with it, on the best of terms.
One of the things I have always loved about him is that he says what he's going to do, in terms of the big things in life, and he does it. He said he was going to be adopted, and he saw to it that he was. Certainly he has experienced ambivalence, doubt, frustration and feelings of estrangement along the way (as have we). But it is in his nature not to be deterred by such feelings, if he can help it, and to stubbornly stick to his goals. In his own time, and no matter how rough the road, he gets where he's going. So here he is.