The stack of legal papers for adoption is thick: so thick that even though my husband and I have been talking about and planning for this huge step in fitting our family together for years, I have somehow forgotten to cross all t’s and dot all i’s. We were supposed to celebrate before the school year started—Mike adopting the three children I had with my first husband, Brian—but last week, while double-checking the paperwork, we realized I had forgotten to sign a few lines.

Back to school season is a season—not a day, not a week—and it is hectic with two teenage girls, one tween boy, and a toddler setting off to pre-primary for the first time. But what’s with this major oversight of multiple signatures on my part? With grief and loss, sometimes the best things come with mixed emotions.

Why, as much as I want Mike to have full legal rights and legit fatherhood status for Melanie, Brooke, and Max, have I been hesitating with the paperwork from the start?

Another Step in a Long Process

This second man I chose to marry, after the first man I chose to marry died when the plane he was flying spiraled out of the sky, is incredible. I married Mr. Incredible because I love and trust him. I married him because the first time I sat next to him I thought I would self-combust. I married him because when he first met me and my three children, we were still semi-lost souls in the orbit of grief. And after a few initial bumps in the road, he decided to take us on, wholeheartedly.

Mike did not flee when five-year-old Max, meeting him for the first time, practically jumped out of his tender skin and screamed, “I knew you’d be AWESOME!”

Mike did not recede quietly into the backdrop when the girls struggled to reconcile what a new man in our world meant about the man whose DNA courses through their veins.

Mike did not freak the f$*k out when Brian came to him in a dream and told him, basically, “take care of the kids, but remember I’m their hero.” He didn’t bat an eye when I told him what Brian told me in a dream, “Mike used to be kind of a jerk. But he’s a good guy now. Go for it.”

We all love Mike. We trust him and we want him to wear his father label officially. He is the biological father to the baby of our family, Zack. The day he was born, in 2017, Zack tied us all together even tighter. In 2019, we are taking the next heart- and family-puzzle-enlarging step with this adoption.
And yet, legally signing over parenting rights to Mike, I’m feeling vulnerable. I feel vulnerable for myself and for Melanie, Brooke, and Max.

Choosing Family, Once and For All

From our earliest days of serious dating and then marriage, I wanted Mike to want to adopt my kids. I felt a strange sense of hurt when he wasn’t tripping over himself to adopt them right away. In hindsight, or at this moment when I sit with this stack of papers on my desk—to complete now, for once and for all—I understand my early longing to fix what was broken, my family.

My drive to address and solve what is wrong runs through many aspects of my life: I see a problem or someone in discomfort, and I’m there. But when Brian died, I struggled because death removed my familiar handholds and altered my reality. Melanie, Brooke, and Max will forever have only one biological father, but early on I viewed Mike as being able to fix the fact they did not have a daddy.

There is no fixing.

This adoption, for me anyway, is an opportunity to create a new puzzle—to boldly declare, “We want to be family! We choose this, and isn’t this beautiful?”

What I wanted early on, when I saw Mike playing with the kids, or reading to them, or sitting and listening to their stories in earnest, exists to the left of my laptop as I type these words. What I have wanted for so long, I get to now seal with my name.

I sign for my kids, knowing that despite some doubts, confusion, and rough patches, they want this too. We all also understand there can be bias around adoption. In the aftermath of Brian’s death, we were part of a “special club,” but one of the things that never sat well with me was people pitying them or me. People saying that they were “poor kids, (they lost their dad),” to me sometimes seemed to imply that they were victims and that they weren’t strong enough to handle it. Pitying the kids or me seemed to imply that we were now “damaged goods.” And that Mike stepped in to marry me and adopt them implied that “we were so lucky,” that someone is playing “savior” and coming to our rescue.

But Mike is not playing at anything. The kids and I don’t need to be saved, but we can make space for love. We feel this love and bond in our bones. My kids are empowered and they are old enough now to choose Mike. They are ready to stand in their status as adoptees. Melanie, Brooke, and Max had to grow up fast after Brian died, and they gained insight through tragedy. Mike becoming their father does not mean they are not Brian’s children. We are all in this together, and that is what makes us lucky.