Vanessa and Mike Anderson were living in a warm, fuzzy world when they called their friends to express excitement over their friends’ recent adoption.
“Congratulations on your new baby,” Vanessa said to the couple. “We wish somebody had a baby for us.”
Their response was unexpected.
“Well, actually, we have three.”
The couple had taken in a 3-month-old baby, but there were three older boys from the same family. They needed a family, too.
The Andersons already had three children, but their hearts were prepared for more little people. They often kept a friend’s daughters for extended periods of time when their mother had to travel for work. Vanessa always missed seeing the two girls go, so she knew taking children in on a temporary basis wouldn’t be a good fit for their family.
So, the Andersons decided to adopt the three boys.
They soon learned it was a far-from-picture-perfect situation. The 1-year-old had spent his entire life strapped in a car seat, and the 3-year-old was the primary caretaker for him and their 2-year-old brother. Vanessa—the woman who thought of herself as the baby whisperer, the woman who had devoted her life to babysitting and childhood development—became the mother of three, beautiful boys who had been through hell.
“They were rough, rugged and raw,” Vanessa said. “They had lived in an environment where they were treated like animals, so they had a lot of animalistic behaviors, and it was hard. I literally had to die to life as I knew it so that they could live. I dare not romanticize adoption.”
Those animalistic behaviors greatly impacted life with the Andersons. The boys smeared fecal matter on the walls and marked their territory throughout the house—the same way a dog marks its territory. The boys stole food and fought.
In a move that puts her close to sainthood, Vanessa wants to protect the woman who kept her sons confined for the formative years of their lives. She wants them to remember her fondly and holds nothing against her for her treatment of the boys. She even had their birth mother record a message for the boys. One day, they will have questions about their life before adoption, and Vanessa wants the answers to come straight from their birth mother.
One of the many things that had to change was their language. Vanessa references some words you don’t expect to hear out of a 3-year-old. She says they spoke like hardened criminals. It took her six weeks to re-teach them the alphabet because they had learned it wrong, and their birth mother had reinforced the mistake because she thought it was funny.
The past five years have been hard—there’s no denying the struggles this family has gone through—but Vanessa wouldn’t change the way it worked out.
“The closer we get to normal, normal feels like Christmas because life was abnormal for so long,” Vanessa said. “I don’t know why anyone would think that re-routing someone’s destiny would be easy because it hasn’t been, but it has been worth it.”
“I would play really elementary, little-kids nursery songs, which you would think they were almost too old for, but they weren’t because they were foreign to them,” Vanessa said. “…They would remix the songs because whatever they were exposed to was so engrained in them.”
She tells the story of one time when they were singing “The Farmer In The Dell,” and one of the boys changed the lyrics to a rap song laden with profanity, violence and sexual themes. So, the family sang “Jesus Loves Me” as loud as they could, just to reprogram the boys to be innocent little children again. They laugh about it now. Vanessa laughs a lot when she tells stories of the past five years, but that’s only because she can look back and see how far they’ve come.
“It hurts so good,” Vanessa said.
Vanessa walks a fine line when talking about the adoption. On the one hand, she doesn’t want to deter anyone from thinking and praying about taking in a child. On the other hand, she doesn’t want to shy away from the details, the hardest parts of the past five years. She wants those thinking about adoption to know what they’re in for—and why it’s all worth it.
“Everyday I would tell myself when things get really hard, ‘If they weren’t here, where would they be? If they were there, what would their lives be like?’ ” Vanessa said. “Somehow, it would make whatever I was facing feel like a light affliction.”
Things are getting better every day.
The boys are thriving in a neighborhood on the outskirts of town. The names in this story have been changed because those three, little boys—the one who lived strapped in a car seat, the ones who dropped four-letter words before they knew the alphabet—don’t exist anymore. They’ve been replaced with young men who are looking at college one day, and in the age of Google, don’t need to be followed by what happened to them before they were adopted. No, those boys are gone.
Now they are part of the Andersons, a family with a legacy. A family that can trace their roots back to the first ancestors who came to America. A family that prays, sings and has ice-cream dates.
A special thank you to our sponsors of this story: