When Molly, 34, and Tony Vidal, 36, first saw their son, he was perched in the yard of a complete stranger. Dressed in a yellow floppy hat, the boy watched a gaggle of kids yell as they ran through a sprinkler. Although they would have a long journey ahead of them, in that moment, the foster parents knew their lives would be changed forever by the little boy looking back at them with big dark eyes.
High school sweethearts, Molly, a chief of staff for the University of Wisconsin Colleges and Extension in Madison, WI, and her husband, a service advisor for an auto dealership, waited until they were in their mid-20s, married, and comfortable homeowners before deciding to start their family.
Assuming that “the Universe would just agree to knock me up because I was reading all the books, and we owned a home, and we had loved each other since we were 16,” the couple was shocked to discover that Vidal had a less than 1 percent chance of conceiving.
After going through what Vidal described as a period of mourning for the loss of the biological child they had originally hoped to have, the couple explored alternative methods of parenting and decided on foster parenting. The decision to become foster parents, says Vidal, was one that felt “extremely natural” to them after growing in Milwaukee and witnessing the severe effects of poverty on families and children.
“We wanted to support a biological mom or dad who perhaps didn’t have the same support and ‘luck’ we did in life,” she explains. “We were willing to put ourselves out there and let our hearts get broken if it meant we could help a child or family.”
The Vidals had their foster parent license for less than one week when they got a call for JK, now 4½. The couple was initially told that JK’s biological mother had just gotten a job and was getting back on her feet, so they expected to care for him over the summer months only.
“We thought it would be a good ‘test run’ for us,” says Vidal. “Having a baby for the summer, helping a mom, and then seeing them reunify in the fall. That is not at all what happened.”
Instead of just one summer, their time caring for JK stretched out over a period of four years. It was a difficult time for the growing boy as he switched between time with the Vidals, the only family he had known since he was three months old, and his biological mother when she was stable enough to have him. The constant back-and-forth, instability, and mixed messages grew difficult for the young boy. The Vidals noted that over time, JK began having severe behavioral problems, such as night terrors, physical interactions with kids at school, difficultly focusing, and panicked outbursts.
“It was beyond infuriating and heart-wrenching to watch because we had no power to fix anything for him,” she explains. “As foster parents, we couldn’t even get him a haircut without permission. He was in limbo for his entire toddlerhood.”
Despite the best efforts of the social workers who worked with JK’s biological mother, it became apparent that she would not be able to establish a stable environment for the child. In early 2017, the Vidals finally received news that they could move forward with a legal adoption, a process that brought both relief and heartbreak. Vidal struggled with sadness over the recognition that JK’s biological mother had done the best she could with the tools she had available.
In April, the Vidals legally adopted JK and the beautiful experience was captured by photographer Nicole Streeter. As Vidal wrote on Streeter’s blog, “The baby in the yellow sun hat became her son forever and the uncertainty of 1,537 days ended.” For Vidal, the fact that she was officially a mother didn’t really hit her until the judge asked her to raise her hand to commit to raising JK.
“I immediately started crying because that’s all I’ve wanted since I first saw him,” she says. “And, then to have him turn around, see me crying, and come over to comfort me, he absolutely felt the same. He curled up into my lap, and it’s a moment that I will remember forever. The two of us, in a court room, making this pact to be a mom and son forever.”
The Vidals are most grateful that their son finally has stability in his life. The little boy who loves Pokémon and dreams of becoming a teacher or geologist when he grows up, has blossomed before their eyes.
JK walks around the house reciting his last name, which now matches his parents’, and has a “joy and lightness” about him that he did not have six months ago. “It’s amazing to watch,” notes his mother.
Throughout the process of adopting JK, the Vidals also become parents to biological daughter, Olive, 3. Vidal says she is grateful to have had the chance to be a mother in different ways.
“Adoption, no matter how you decided to adopt, is an amazing journey,” she explains. “It’s so different than having a child biologically, and I don’t just mean the stretch marks. It means you are consciously committing to a child forever and all the events that happened to that child (even in the womb) before you even met him or her. And, that is a beautiful thing to be a part of, this leap of faith you take to care for another human being for the rest of your life. Adoption will now always be a big part of the fabric of our family, and we wear it proudly.”
As for what the new family of four is looking forward to most in the future? The small things that most families take for granted, like being able to take vacations without permissions, signing their son up for soccer, and breathing a little easier knowing that when their son wakes up tomorrow, he will be in the same bed.
“We get to be a normal family now, and that is such a blessing!” Vidal says.