Our family was so wrong. We thought that adopting a child with Down syndrome would be about what we could do for him. The error of thinking like that was one of the first of many awesome life lessons that Jack taught me.
I’m not much of a gambler. I’m too good at math. I could tell you how much an hour it will probably cost me to play slot machines. I can never be sure if I will lose the next hand of poker, but I can tell you the percentage I will lose if I spent the night in the casino. As Cousin Eddy told Clark Griswold, in Christmas Vacation: “It’s people like you who come here and blow the family nest egg that built this town… not this pretty boy!”
Even so, in the spring of 1995, I drove away a winner. Our family had put more planning into that Vegas trip than most people do. In fact, we had been working on it for over a year.
Our trip to Las Vegas, though spent at Circus Circus, was not gambling related. We were there because we were adopting a child with Down syndrome and bringing him home. He was a month old. Initially we had planned to adopt a girl to complement our three biological sons, but the baby boy came available and it seemed like the right thing to do. On our way to Sin City, my wife, Amy, confided that she had been so busy researching girl names that she had no idea what to name our new son. This was before open adoptions had become the norm and this child had spent his first month at the hospital with no name on his birth certificate.
I told my wife that it was strange, but I couldn’t stop thinking that he already had a name and it was Daniel. She liked the name and we decided to keep it.
As we sat in the lobby of the adoption agency, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were doing the right thing for our home and family. Amy and I had always felt like we were supposed to have sons and daughters. I wondered if we were giving up someone else’s place in the home. It was too late to change our minds, though. We were adopting another son. We were adopting a child with Down syndrome.
It’s kind of sad, because other families don’t even know what they’re missing. They have no idea that adopting a child with Down syndrome would fill a family void.
Minutes later, one of the workers from the agency placed a one-month-old baby boy in Amy’s arms. “Here is your son,” she said. “Because of his heart condition, we were able to keep him at the hospital until you got here. Now, this is a closed adoption, but we have allowed for you and the birth mother to exchange letters to each other, which our agency will screen. Neither party can share information that would divulge your identity or whereabouts. You can send her as many letters and pictures as you want for the first year, and then once a year for the first five years. After that, there is no contact.” We nodded, but it was kind of mumbo-jumbo. We knew all of that from our months of preparation for adopting a child with Down syndrome and adding him to our home. “You can’t use your son’s name in the exchanges, so the birth mother chose a name that she would have given him and you should use this name in the correspondence. The name we have called him at the hospital for the past month, and the name that you should use in the letters is Daniel.”
I gasped. Amy burst into tears. That little guy was supposed to be in our family! Now we could not doubt it. Adopting a child with Down syndrome really was in our stars. Our family was supposed to bring him into our home.
Later that afternoon my dad called and told us that he wanted to share his name with our son. We realized that we had been given the first name to know he was supposed to be ours; that adopting a child with Down syndrome was the right thing for us do. But the original name didn’t need to remain. Even so, we couldn’t completely give it up after what had happened.
It seemed more than a little bit odd for a family with our Christian background to be naming a child Jack Daniel, but it did have a nice ring to it.
Las Vegas and Jack Daniel were two of the best things that ever happened to our family. Adopting a child with Down syndrome would be one of the best things that could ever happen to any family. We entered into the situation naively thinking we would do more for that little boy than he could do for us. Anyone who has ever had a child with Down syndrome will smile as they read that because they know exactly what I’m talking about. Those incredible people who sport designer genes with a bonus chromosome fill a place that is left empty in most homes. It’s kind of sad, because other families don’t even know what they’re missing. They have no idea that adopting a child with Down syndrome would fill a family void.
I’m here to tell you though; if you want to be lucky, if you want to come away knowing your family has beat the odds and done something good that very few people will ever do, begin the journey of adopting a child with Down syndrome. You’ll spend the rest of your life wondering how you ever got to be so fortunate.
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