So Jack and Kelly became foster parents, hoping to adopt.
They had a couple of temporary kids, grew attached to them and kept their photos after they were returned to their parents. Last year, their forever children arrived, and they began meeting the challenge of caring for them.
“They were a fantastic family from the beginning, very quick to advocate for their children,” said Kathleen Ambroso, the CFSA social worker who handled Jack and Kelly’s case. “And that was it. They saw them as their children, right from the start.”
What really seemed to bond them was the addition of their sister, Ravyn, who had been cared for in a foster home in another state.
When she joined them, everyone fell into their roles, Ambroso said.
Cardel became the smart older brother, taking on a leadership role, bringing Ravyn along with games and patience, his own vocabulary increasing as he taught her.
And Raine and Ravyn were inseparable, reveling in their girliness. When I arrived at their home, they spent much of the time asking to see my eye shadow and applying lipstick to my face with less-than-perfect accuracy.
It wasn’t smooth, Jack reminds me.
In their parent-support groups and foster meetings, they were usually the only same-sex parents.
The first time their home was inspected to qualify for foster care, the social worker looked them up and down with wonder and a hint of suspicion.
“I’ve never been to a home in this part of town,” she told them.
The adoption process was painful at times, especially for the children’s mother. She was struggling and in lots of legal trouble. Raising three children was untenable in her situation, and she knew it. But they were her babies. And Jack and Kelly knew it.
Aware of the racial, social and economic differences that were part of the situation, the men tread carefully.
In the end, after social workers and therapists and teachers and psychologists and pediatricians had been studying them for a year, a judge determined that the best place for the children to thrive was with Jack and Kelly. To help the mom stay in touch, they set up a personal blog, just for her, where they post photos and drawings and anecdotes from their lives.
The biggest challenge came with Cardel’s biological father. Before he heard that his child was being adopted, he didn’t play much of a role in Cardel’s life.
But the thought of his child being raised by two strangers — and by two gay, white strangers — prompted a court fight. It got ugly.
On the third day of testimony, Jack, Kelly and Cardel were outside the courthouse early.
“Cardel was going through a paper airplane phase, so we were playing paper airplanes with him outside,” Jack said.
The father came toward them. They had never exchanged a word outside the courtroom. Jack invited him to come play. And for a good 30 minutes, the three men and the boy played and laughed.
When they assembled in the courtroom later in the week, Cardel’s biological father took the stand and made an announcement. He looked at Jack and Kelly and said aloud that his son would do well with them, that he was in the right place. He cried a little, got off the stand, hugged everyone, dropped his case and walked out the door.
When the social worker showed him the family photo from the wedding, he told her: “Cardel will have opportunities I never had.”
Judgment dropped, and a family now complete.
To read previous columns by Petula Dvorak, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.