Adoption Day

Kevin double-clutch hugs his daddy and papa

I couldn’t let this day pass without sharing something about our adoption, which took place 20 years ago.

After breakfast on Tuesday, December 17, 2002, we dressed Kevin in khakis and a button-down shirt. He looked in the mirror to examine his spiffy threads. He knew this was no ordinary day. In the preceding weeks, Danny and I talked to him about going to court and his adoption, explaining what the day was about.

“But we are a family,” he said during one of those talks, confused.

“That’s true,” I said. “The judge is just going to make sure we stay a family.”

“Forever,” Danny punctuated my point.

“Oh,” Kevin said, seemingly okay with our response. For all he knew, every family needed a judge to make them permanent. There was no need to over-explain.

Kevin ran from the mirror in the bedroom to the apartment door. “Papa!” He summoned me. “Pick me up.” He squeezed a foam basketball in his right hand and waited under the dangling plastic net. “Papa!”

“Papa’s getting dressed,” Danny said. “Let’s take a few shots without him.” Kevin pouted, sat on the mat, and waited. For some reason, he preferred to play ball with me and would rather wait than play with Danny.

I fixed my tie in the bedroom. I caught Danny’s reflection in the mirror.

“Papa!” Kevin screamed from the living room.

“He wants you,” Danny said. “But we don’t have much time.”

We rarely dressed up. Danny looked so handsome. He put his arms around my waist and rested his head on my shoulder.

“A few hoops,” I said, “and then we’ll go.”

Kevin jumped up when I came into the living room. I lifted him high in the air so he could slam-dunk. We did that a few more times until it was time to leave our make-believe basketball court for a very real family court.

Pete, Danny, and Kevin in 2002.
Pete, Danny, and Kevin in 2002

When we arrived at the Manhattan Family Court building, the enormity of forever suddenly overtook me. This is it, I thought, after today, we’ll be on our own. Kevin’s fate will be solely in our hands. The future filled my thoughts. What kind of person would Kevin grow up to be? Would he be kind, compassionate, neurotic, inquisitive, impulsive, thoughtful, pompous, introverted, outgoing? Would he become a writer like his papa or a social worker like his dad? Would he be nagged and troubled by questions about who he is and where he came from? How would he answer all the questions that were sure to come? Would Danny and I have succeeded in raising him to be confident and poised enough to deal with others’ endless curiosity?

We entered the courtroom and took our seats. Judge Cooper lit up when she saw Kevin. The two of them were meeting for the first time. The child she had made many decisions for was finally there, in person.

I turned around and saw my parents sitting in the back. Mom clutched a tissue. Dad nodded his approval. They were about to be newly minted grandparents. Their family, much smaller and less Italian than they had ever imagined, was about to grow by one.

Kevin straddled my left leg and Danny’s right. He looked around the courtroom, observing everything: the stenographer repositioning herself, our caseworker opening a folder, the guard with arms folded behind his back. He looked up, down, and all around until finally straight ahead at Judge Cooper. She waved. Kevin waved back.

My sister Linda stood to address the court.

Kevin waved his arms, motioning for her to sit down. He didn’t understand why his Aunt Ni-Ni—his name for her—stood while the rest of us sat.

“Ni-Ni,” he called out, “Sit down!”

“It’s okay, Kevin,” Linda said. “Aunt Ni-Ni is allowed to stand.”

“Who do we have with us today?” Judge Cooper asked.

“These are the baby’s grandparents, your honor,” Linda said.

“Welcome,” the judge said. “So glad you could be here. This is a very special occasion. Shall we begin?”

“You guys ready?” Judge Cooper asked. We nodded and then stood.

Judge Cooper flipped to the signature page on the Certificate of Adoption, lifted her pen, glanced at us one last time, smiled, and signed her name. In one stroke, Daniel Ace Doe became Kevin Stewart-Mercurio, and we became a family forever.

“Congratulations, young man,” Judge Cooper said to Kevin. “And you, too, gentlemen.”

Kevin wrapped his arms around our necks and squeezed tight for a double-clutched family hug. When he let go, Danny and I released an audible sigh of relief. A breath we’d been holding for two years came out.

Judge Cooper politely tapped her gavel, signaling that we couldn’t linger.

Family photo in Kevin's room
Family photo in Kevin's room
Goofing around with kisses
Family photo in Kevin's room

But in the two years since Kevin had become our foster child, one question remained unanswered.

One that changed our lives forever.

Why did Judge Cooper ask Danny to adopt?

“Your Honor?” I raised my hand.

“Yes?” she asked.

“Um, we…” I stuttered. “We’ve been wondering for the past two years why you asked Danny if he was interested in adopting?”

“I had a hunch,” she said tersely. “Was I wrong?”

Afraid she might change her mind, we quickly shook our heads.

Then she rose from the bench, congratulated us again, exited the courtroom, and left our lives forever.

A hunch? That was it? Just a hunch? Her answer only invited more questions, which would also stay unanswered.

With Kevin’s future now on our shoulders, Danny and I stepped out of court and continued doing what we never dreamed or expected we’d do, but that which the universe had entrusted us to do: provide a stable home for this boy, our boy, our son, and love him with all of our hearts.

Unconditionally.

Every day.

For the rest of our lives.

Kevin in a colorful striped shirt
Kevin in a colorful striped shirt—one of my favorite photos of him from that time
Going for a bike ride
Going on one of our frequent bike rides
Try a little tenderness
One of favorite photos of me and my boy

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