|Peter and Ben|
When our oldest son went away to college, it left an empty spot in our lives - both physically and emotionally. I had always wanted another child or more. We had 3 biological children and one adopted daughter with some severe emotional issues. We were stressed almost beyond our limits with her. I think emotional issues are tough ones and dealing with them takes a lot of real time, wisdom, and love.
I wanted another child as we had been married young and still had child rearing time but my wife had gone through a tubal ligation at the time of our third child. To compound the issue, we were not wealthy - not at all. When we decided to adopt, I went through 12 agencies that turned us down until I finally got a photo and information about a 2 year old boy from Taiwan who had been blind from birth but was as cute as a button and seemed to be a normal bright boy. I had friends who were blind so I did not have a problem getting past the lack of vision. I had a vision for that child and so did Sister Rosa from the orphanage.
The greatest problem I had was getting my wife's signature on the papers. She was not sure about adding another child because of what we were going through. I never believed it possible but six months later we were at the airport waiting for our newest son. Peter was soon enrolled in a preschool for blind children. Three days a week I also took Peter to the Cleveland Sight Center and waited with other parents - all mothers of blind children. As I watched Peter at normal tasks and at play, it was clear to me after a year that he would have a much easier time if he had a sighted sibling.
I wrote to Adoption Advocates again - just to drop a hint that we would be interested in adopting again. I did not think that anyone would allow a second adoption but again Sister Rosa surprised us and responded that she had "just the right child for us." This was a child whose photo would bring a shocked look to anyone I shared it with because the little 17 month old boy had a huge " hemangioma" on his entire lower left jaw. These blood tumors are red because they are filled with blood and this one was fully the size of the rest of the toddler's face. This child had been hospitalized (mostly kept on his back) for his entire young life.
|Ben before surgery|
I wanted to be certain that the rest of my children could deal with the comments and interactions of others when seeing him for the first time, so I had the children each take the photo to school to show it to their friends and to deal with the comments. The family members each handled the comments and questions and I tried to learn about the remainder of his medical conditions. We had heard that one family had turned him down. We decided to accept him but my hesitation was that there was no real indication of his mental ability. I could handle most handicaps but I was uncertain about how I could do with a child with limited mental growth.
Benjamin, as we named him, would take only formula through a bottle and was only 12 pounds at 17 months old . His legs were especially shocking as they were still as he had been as a newborn. Both Peter, and Benjamin came into this world weighing less than 2 pounds each. The percentage of babies who survive at this low birth weight at the time was 10% The Early Childhood Intervention program in our area was just beginning to get underway and I was one of two parent representatives for our county's program.
I began Benjamin in the program for children under 3 years for 2 days a week and then the other 3 days a week, I took both of the boys fifty miles into Cleveland for Peter to go to the class at the school for the blind. For some of the time, while Peter was in class at the children for the blind, I took Ben over a few blocks to a speech specialist as he was almost 4 years old and still did not speak.
Over the next two years, surgeons worked in nearly 30 surgeries to remove the tumor on his face. He had 4 other surgeries to correct other problems. Both boys went to the local elementary school. I remember in 1994 when I took Peter to enroll him in kindergarten
the principal of the school looked at me and said "There is a place for kids like him" (referring to the schools for the blind). I said "I know - this is one right here" ---affirming my decision to have Peter mainstreamed. This law was 20 years old and yet I still had to battle fervently to have things done in a practical way for him to learn. "Braille and Speak" notepads were coming out and Peter got his first one in the fourth grade. He really took off academically then and even learned to fix it himself so we didn’t have to send it away when it need servicing because that took many weeks. During their school years Peter and Benjamin were involved in wrestling for at least one year and Peter also participated in Model UN.
Peter was able to take university classes in his last year of high school and began studying on the Ohio State University campus to be an Information technologist for the Office of Research. Benjamin graduated with honors from high school and followed a couple of years behind Peter also at Ohio State University. Ben received a bachelor’s degree in Speech and Hearing and then went on to graduate school at Kent State University. He is now licensed as a teacher in Early Childhood Intervention and specialized in three to five year old children.
Having Benjamin go from a class of children in an early intervention program to directing a class of the same made me think of the days I was waiting for him to finish the class and reading the books on degrees of mental retardation - and wondering what I had gotten myself into. Both boys live independently in their own condo and put themselves through school. My motto is now “Teach a child to fish and you will be envious of his trophy catch."