KidsTheseDays.org is pleased to present this weekly serial from writer, Shirley Kurth Schneider. Shirley and her husband moved to Alaska in 1962 and in 1965 they broke ground on a rustic two-story cabin, located off the grid just outside Fairbanks. It was the same year that they decided to adopt a baby. Adoption: Alaska-style is Shirley's story about becoming a mother in rural 1960's Alaska, excerpted from her memoir-in-progress and presented here in five parts. Read parts 1-4
My pulse echoed in my ears. My chest felt as though it were too tight for all the activity going on inside. Warm moisture dampened the palms of my hands, threatening to interfere with my grasp on the handle of my coffee cup.
If we received a negative answer, I was going to play the innocent, uninformed, repentant role. I intended to convince this person, who held my life in her hands, I had never heard of an adoption regulation in my lifetime. Ever! Surely, if we had made our decision to move into the basement based on lack of knowledge, in ignorance of the rules, the State had to give us an opportunity to correct that mistake. Didn’t they?
In an exaggerated, unhurried manner, the social worker leaned forward to set her dessert plate on the coffee table. Then she leaned back into her chair, holding her coffee cup.
“If this were any other state than Alaska, I would recommend denial of the right to adopt. However, I live in Alaska. I know people live by a different standard. Christopher appears to be a happy child. He shows every sign of meeting the social, physical, and psychological level one would expect to see in a child his age. Therefore, I am going to give my approval to adopt.”
My coffee cup began to shake on the saucer, and I lost control of my breathing pattern. I wanted to ask her to repeat herself. I wanted to hear it again, every syllable, every word, every sentence. The previous seventy-two hours of torment crashed down upon my shoulders. I felt as though I had labored for hours without pause. I could do little more than smile through my tears. I grasped Larry’s hand. Christopher leaned on the edge of the coffee table, and, tipping his head to the side, began to produce one of his affecting belly laughs. He grasped the coffee table and bobbed up and down, giggling at the three of us.
The SS lady continued. “I recommend you provide the child with his own bedroom as soon as possible.”
Before departing, she took the liberty of presenting the basic regulations covering State adoptions, just in case we decided to adopt again. Then she wished us a speedy completion of our dwelling. Someone offered her another cup of coffee. She declined. Someone retrieved her coat from the bedroom and walked her to the door. An offer to drive her back to the office was made and the door was closed behind her.
Larry’s voice was still audible from inside the garage as I began to remove cups and saucers from the living room. I placed the dessert dishes beneath the cover over the sinks, listening for silence. When I was certain they had climbed the crest of the driveway, I scooped Christopher into my arms. We hugged as the two of us danced around the table, across the cheap linoleum covering the cement kitchen floor, under the potholed insulation, onto the braided rug that lay over the army-blanket padding. In exhausted jubilation I tumbled down upon the floor, and we rolled around together.
“You are my son. My son, Christopher,” I said as my kisses messed the soft wave of dark curls covering his forehead. Christopher giggled and uttered indecipherable syllables as he hugged me in return.
That evening, noticing Larry had stretched out on the couch, I walked over and shoved his feet toward the edge, curling my legs beneath me as I sat.
I was feeling testy because I knew we could have saved ourselves the emotional trauma. Not having adopted before was no excuse, and I knew it. This afternoon had proven that although Alaska may not regulate the home-building process in the borough, they were pretty serious about adoptions.
“When we adopt a little girl,” I said in a most challenging manner, “the house needs to be finished. I am not going through this hell again.”
“Okay, Schneider, okay. It wasn’t much fun for me, either. We’ll finish the house before we get him a sister.”
Though I was legitimately angry with Larry, I was also upset with myself. When I had realized the house-building project wasn’t going to be completed in one summer, it would have been wise of me to check State regulations and follow up on them.
I knew Social Services’ probationary period was there to protect the child, possibly even allowing for slip-ups to be mended. I also knew that during that probationary period, a bond was created that could break hearts if severed.
The next afternoon, sitting on the couch with Christopher’s baby-book, I passed my hand over the plastic nametag from the hospital, a copy of his birth announcement, cards extending congratulations, and the record of his baptism. Then I found what I was seeking. I read aloud a portion of the poem I’d clipped from a magazine shortly after we brought him home.
It said: Not of my womb, but of my heart.