Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Is adoptive love different?

"Maria Rodriguez" ... I will never forget that sweet, cherub faced little girl during my second year of teaching 2nd grade in California.  She, along with others over the years, left an indelible mark on me that I know was intended by God.  

Honestly, I was not a very good teacher when it came to test scores and grading scales and rubrics - for me, that wasn't why I got into teaching and it wasn't what kept me teaching for six years.  It was children like "Maria Rodriguez".  When I taught I loved each and every child that walked through my doors the first day of school like they were my very own (ok, seriously, there were some that were harder to love than others and maybe even a few that I would never name a child after, but that's beside the point.) - I prayed over the desks in that public school classroom of Olive Elementary School every morning, begging God to give me insight into the hearts and minds of the children I was entrusted with each day.  If a child left at the end of the school year through my doors and hadn't learned a darned thing, it didn't matter a whole lot to me (sorry Principal Salata!) - what mattered more than anything to me at the end of each day was that my students felt valued and safe and cherished by me.

I learned early in my first year of teaching that the children who "acted out", who pulled a card for behavior and who cried at the drop of a hat, were the children that felt safest in my classroom - these were the kids that didn't have a safe place to cry at home.  These were the kiddos that worried if they would get beaten when they forgot their backpack at school.  These were the kiddos that stayed up late at night wondering when their mother would get home from "walking the streets" - at 7 and 8 years old! Maria was one of these kiddos...

Maria came to me every morning with her long, brown hair in dreadlocks, her eyes puffy from sleepless nights, and hunger in her belly.  She had dirt under her fingernails and behind her ears and never had an outfit that looked very clean but was still cute as a button.  I kept a stash of cereal bars in my desk drawer for Maria along with a hairbrush because every morning, 15 minutes before the bell rang, Maria would knock on the door and come in so that I could brush her hair, she could eat her cereal bar and sometimes cry in my lap.  I'll never forget the day she told me why she cried so often.  I don't remember every word but I remember a lot...

She said in her sweet hispanic accent, "Mrs. DeMaio, I am very scared at night.  I don't like to sleep in that scary place.  I liked our car better."

"Maria, what is the scary place like?"  I asked.

"There are lots of spiders that crawl on me at night.  And it isn't comfortable because I have to sleep with my sisters.  And sometimes the train wakes me up and dogs bark a lot," was her reply.

"Oh, sweet pea...  spiders aren't fun at all, are they?  Do you share a bed with your sisters?"

"Sort of.  We have a blanket that my mom's friend gave us for the floor.  But there are rakes and shovels and one time one of them fell down from the wall in the night."

"Rakes?  That is strange to have rakes in the house."  I wanted to know why she felt spiders crawl on her in the night and was growing more and more concerned.

"Yeah.  My mom's friend doesn't have enough room for all of us in the house so my sisters and I sleep in the shed.  That's why I liked the car better.  I wish I had a bed like 'Rachael'."

"I do too Maria.  I will pray for you to have a peaceful place to sleep.  Can I pray for you?"  And I prayed for little Maria that morning, along with many other mornings after that.  I called social services soon after she left the classroom and they followed up with her mother later in the day.  Her mother was a member of a local gang and Maria was shuffled around from school to school as her mother tried to get a handle on her out-of-control life.  

The reason I share that story is because that year God revealed to me how easy it is to love a child.  If Maria had been placed in foster care or needed a place to go, I would have scooped her up in a New York minute!  

I hear people say all the time, "I just don't know if I would be able to love an adopted child the same as my biological children."  Or similar thoughts like, "I just wonder if it would be strange to kiss a child that I had never met and show them affection, at least for a while."  Honestly, those just haven't been an issue for me because I so deeply cared for the children I had in my classroom before Dustin and I began our family.  

I understand that not everyone's experiences are like mine and every person is on their own journey.  But, for me, adoptive love isn't any different.  I kiss Penny like my life depended on it just like I kiss my other kiddos.  

And I also know that there are millions of Marias around the world in classrooms everywhere who are looking for someone to say "You are precious!".  

Maria moved away to live with her dad, whom she had seldom met, the following year in the middle of third grade.  I don't know where she is today - and believe me, I've done all the facebook searches I could!  BUT, I know that for a season she felt cared for.  And it inspires me to look at each face that walks through the doors of Southbrook Church as another Maria - God has his fingerprints all over them!


  1. beautiful post Heidi... thanks for sharing. Brought tears to my eyes.

  2. Heidi & Dustin, I began praying for your children even before you were married. Your blog about Maria reminds me of how important it is to pray, even when we don't know all of the specifics about a child; if God puts it on our heart . . . we pray.