Christopher is 8 years old and lives in Illinois. His parents, Allan and Toni, already had a nearly three-year-old daughter, Kali, when they decided they wanted to expand their family through adoption. They felt that having one biological child and one adopted child would give them a more rounded experience as parents.
Allan, Toni, and Kali were living in California at the time, and decided to get involved in the state's "Fost-Adopt" program, which lets families take in foster children with the goal of eventually adopting them. The program worked very well for Chris's parents, letting them skip a lot of the red tape and high cost of traditional adoption. They told the program that they were interesting in adopting a Latino child (they are white), and, if possible, an infant. Then they waited.
It had been almost three years since Kali was born, when "waiting" meant dealing with pregnancy, going into labor, and all the other things expectant parents do when a baby's on the way. This time, it was very different: they were waiting for the phone to ring. When it finally did, they rushed to the hospital to meet the new member of their family!
Chris: "They brought me home the day after I was born in 2001. I came in a car, and I came back home...and then I started to be in this family."
His sister, who is now 11, remembers it like this:
Kali: "I seem to remember the social worker holding me up to the window in the hospital when my parents were there. I thought, "Cool! I'm gonna have someone to pick on!" I think my parents gave me a very brief talk, telling me a little bit about what this was about. I was about to get a baby brother...he wasn't gonna be the same as me...he was gonna be a little different. Then after that, I just gradually grew to understand that he was going to be my little brother, and I was going to have to treat him like one, too."
Christopher's biological mom wanted a "clean break," so the adoption was closed, meaning that she would not have a role in her baby's life or a relationship with his adoptive family. Christopher's family knows very little about his birth mom, aside from the fact that she was young, had good health care while pregnant, and is originally from El Salvador.
Even though Chris was legally Allan and Toni's foster child for the first year, there was never any doubt that they would adopt him, and from day one, he was a member of the family. When the year passed and they were finally able to make it official, they moved to a new home in Illinois. While Allan and Toni saw Christopher as their true child just like they did with Kali, they also knew they would never attempt to hide the fact that Chris was adopted. Whatever questions Chris or Kali had, their parents would do their best to answer them honestly.
For Chris, understanding where he came from was gradual. As he grew up, it was impossible not to notice certain differences between himself and his sister and parents. Since his birth mother was Salvadoran, the most obvious difference was skin color.
Chris: "I noticed that their skin was a little whiter than mine, and mine was a little darker than theirs. I also recognized that I was the only one without glasses. So I asked them why, and they said that I came from a different place than them, and that's mostly how I knew it."
Kali: "I have gotten some weird looks, and kids have been like, 'Why does he look different than you?' And I just explain, and they kinda drop it. But I'm sure that if they did make fun of him, I wouldn't like that. There have been times when I'll be talking to a friend, and somehow one of us will bring up Chris. And if they haven't seen him before, I'll usually just say, 'Oh, yeah, my brother's a little different, because he's actually adopted.' But a lot of times that doesn't happen. Especially when my friends and I are walking back from lunch, and Chris is coming in from recess; every time, he gives me a big hug. So, my friends are just like, 'So, is he your little brother? Why doesn't he look like you?' And again, I just explain to them."
Of course, there are other differences. Chris tends to be more athletic and more energetic than the rest of the family.
Chris: "My whole family besides me mostly likes to walk, but I like to run all day. Also, I don't like to read that much, but Kali reads all the time. My favorite class in school is PE, but Kali likes the library, because she likes to check out new books."
Chris does sometimes think about his birth mother.
Chris: "Sometimes I think, well, what does she look like? Because I don't get to see her. Maybe, does she have glasses? Or, does she not have glasses?"
Most of the time, though, he's just way too busy being a member of his family, which isn't always easy. Like any other siblings, Chris and Kali sometimes fight.
Kali: "I think we interact the same way as we would if we were from the same parents. Because I've seen a lot of other brothers and sisters, and there's really not much difference. It's just the common, fight-fight, annoy-annoy, I didn't do it, she did it... y'know."
Chris: "We argue, but we argue about weird things. I annoy her, and then sometimes she annoys me."
Every once in awhile, the fighting goes a little too far.
Kali: "When I've gotten really mad I've said stuff like, 'You're not my real brother.' That's something that he pretty much goes crazy on. Our parents really don't like it when I do that because, I mean, he really IS my real brother. It's really not about genes, and stuff like that. It more about how much you bond as a family."