Leah Latimer is a Maryland writer who will be giving out her best ’Old School Lessons’ about family. She can be reached at oldschoollessons@gmail.com

November is National Adoption Month , time to celebrate the 120,000 children in foster care waiting to enrich a family through their adoption and to congratulate families that already know the wonder of taking a child into their home. It’s also the time of year that reminds me of what-might have been.

There’s a sixteen-year-old girl out there who would have been my adopted daughter had it not been for the apologies and excuses from adults who shuffled her destiny around in stuffed desks and lost files and new jobs.

“Deja” was two years old in 1997 when I first learned about her, living in the Baltimore area with a foster mother and foster siblings. Today, I don’t know if I want her to know about her would-be family or not. What would she think?

What would it mean to her that I still pray she has the same kind of home my husband and I would have given her? That she would have two older brothers to adore her, even though back then one of them said, “I don’t see why we need a sister?” That an extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins had been waiting for her?

That May, our family finished the six-month One Church, One Child adoption program at a Howard County church. Almost immediately our adoption counselor set up an appointment with Maryland social services. I don’t remember if it was Baltimore or Baltimore County.

My husband and I sat for a few hours going through the file of a little girl a social worker thought would be a good match for us. Her biological mother was petite and had my coloring. “She looks like me when I was a toddler. See the fuzzy light-brown hair?” I told my husband.

Sometimes people tell you more than they should, and we were told that the white foster mother was always complaining about “Deja.” They said she exaggerated stories about the child not eating, or not speaking, or crying a lot, all for the additional money that she would get if “Deja” were declared a “special needs” child.

Both of the toddler’s parents had been caught up in the social services and the justice system and neither they nor their families could take the child. The father’s family might be interested if they could take her as a foster child, I was told. But adoption is the ideal and they were giving her to us.

On the morning I was to meet “Deja” I got a call from my adoption counselor telling me that her foster mother had just decided that she would adopt “Deja.” Apologetically, she said some foster parents do this to buy time, and our adoption plans might still go through, but my visit was abruptly cancelled.

From then on, I could not reach the social worker nor my adoption counselor, who had moved on to a new job. No one could, or would tell me what was happening to “Deja.” After about six months, someone in a government office found our family’s approved adoption application, but said it had expired.

The focus of this year’s National Adoption Month is on the 120,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted. Reports of happy, wonderful children and their delighted new families have become a tradition this time of year as judges in public ceremonies declare their adoptions final. I’m glad that so many families’ adoption stories have happy endings (or happy beginnings, really).

In any case, I also blame myself that “Deja” is not part of my family. While all of the adoption drama was going on back then, my mother suffered two heart attacks, and after awhile it was just too hard to keep pressing the adoption issue.

I often think about “Deja.” If she sees herself in this story will she want to contact me? My email is oldschoollessons@gmail.com .

For more resources on adoption, contact the following:

National Adoption Day, http://www.nationaladoptionday.org/

Casey Family Services, http://www.caseyfamilyservices.org/kidsneedyou/fosterparent/

Black Adoption Placement and Research Center, http://www.baprc.org/

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