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Tough choices but finally, family

My husband, Jorge, and I became foster parents in Washington State in 2015. He wanted to adopt, and I wasn’t sure. We thought we’d test the waters by fostering first, hopefully a young child, and definitely only one.

We received several profiles from our worker, but only one immediately caught my eye. It was a 14-year-old boy named Michael. He was shy, sweet, and intellectually disabled. He was the same age as our youngest son. The minute I saw Michael’s profile, all of my previous thoughts about who we would foster went out the window. I texted Jorge. He wrote back: “If you feel it in your heart, let’s roll with it.”

As soon as we met Michael, we knew he would be a great fit for our family and moved forward with fostering him. Shortly afterward we met his 9-year-old sister, Emily. We immediately fell in love with her spirit and drive and decided to foster her too.

Less than a year into our journey, Jorge got a government job that required we relocate to Texas. After a discussion with Michael and Emily, we decided to move forward with adoption. While we knew the first step in foster care is trying to reunify, we had been informed that this was not going to happen in this case. There was only one problem: the children were not yet legally free to be adopted.

We crossed our fingers and made a plan. Jorge would relocate to Texas, and I would stay behind in Washington and wait for the kids to finish the school year. We hoped we would be given permission to bring the children to Texas that summer, or that they would become available to be adopted by fall.

One day that spring, we had a big phone conference with our teams—all of the social workers and guardians ad litem. We were told Michael and Emily would not be able to come to Texas, and that their worker would be looking for a new placement—or placements—for them. We were devastated.

We had the tough talk with the children. We prepared our hearts to leave them behind, and their hearts to move once again. You see, we had been their fourth and fifth foster home in just the first year. While their worker looked for a forever home in Washington, we proceeded to build our dream home in Texas for ourselves and our birth son.

After weeks of looking for a forever home for Emily and Michael in Washington and not being able to find one, their worker asked if we would reconsider—and of course we jumped at the opportunity! The only one that had to be convinced was the judge, and that required the children to testify in court. We knew that would be difficult and painful. But the children were brave. When the judge asked them what they wanted, through tears they told her that they wanted a new life, a normal life. They wanted to move to Texas. And through her own tears, the judge agreed.

Sandra and Jorge Mendez with five children
After four years and a cross-country move, the Mendez family was complete and living in their “dream home” in Texas.

Later that summer we all moved to Texas. Our home was not meant for all of us—we’d been planning for three—but we made it work. That fall, we enrolled the children in wonderful schools where they started to make friends and thrive.

And we continued to wait for them to become legally free to adopt. It took nine more months, but eventually, we were given the green light to proceed with the adoption. After four-plus years in foster care, preceded by homelessness, instability, and trauma, we received a finalization date: the ceremony would take place on October 18, 2019, one month before Michael’s 18th birthday.

Just like their case, the adoption ceremony was non-traditional, held via Facetime. Jorge, Michael, Emily, and our bio kids were in our dining room in Texas, surrounded by our closest family, while our adoption team sat in court in Washington. Finally, we were officially a family!

Michael graduated from high school the next year. The boy who came to us barely able to read now has a job and a driver’s license and is learning to live independently. Our daughter Emily, now 13, is a happy girl with a big heart and a promising future. She loves to cook and dreams of owning a little bistro one day.

I am writing this letter because some people think that kids in foster care have done something wrong. But of course, they are not bad kids, they are the victims of bad situations. They need love and patience, and for at least one person to dedicate time to them. As my husband likes to say: Children are like artwork. A great piece is not created overnight. It takes years of attention and commitment to sculpt a masterpiece.