"The Second Half of My Life"

Everyone told me adopting as an older parent was out of character for me. But I filled my role easily.

Adopting as an older parent worked for Sheila Stainback

Each day when I return home from work, I hear Charles’ soft, baby voice: “Mommy, my mommy.” I always reply, “My baby, my baby.” He presses his nose against mine and encircles my neck in his tiny arms. It’s our routine as I take over from his caregiver and resume the most rewarding job of my life — being a mother. I can see I’m going to have to start putting away money for that child’s psychiatrist bills. That was the reaction of a friend when I told him I had decided to adopt. As a hard-driving TV journalist, I had never struck anyone as a person who would make time for a child. Close associates confessed that my nickname was Ice Queen.

But for years, children had stayed stubbornly on my middle-aged mind. I’d given thousands of dollars to child advocacy programs and joined the board of a foster agency. Listen to your passions, one friend advised, and I gave more money.

Then, a few years ago, just before my 40-something-th birthday, it hit me: I didn’t necessarily want to give birth, but I did want to be a mother. Up to then, my focus had been building my 401K; the thought of saving for a college education for a child was daunting, to say the least. And I truly loved my life — seeing a movie any time I wanted, buying a new wardrobe for every season, and sleeping late every weekend. How would I reconcile this singleton thinking with being a mom?

For me, the decision was so easy, I can see why it shocked even my closest friends. I simply realized that I didn’t want the second half of my life to look like the first half. I set out to find a way to bring a child into my life before another year had passed — to hell with sleep and fine clothes!

I signed up at the Angel Guardian agency, in Brooklyn, and amassed 30 hours in training on what it means to bring a child who is not biologically yours into your home. Just six weeks after I was certified to be a foster/adoptive parent, I received Charles’ picture via e-mail. He has huge, expressive eyes, a megawatt smile, and thick, curly hair that’s been braided in cornrows since he was a year old. When I first met him at the agency, his small, two-and-a-half-year-old body was clad in a black denim jacket and jeans. I was anxious and a-twitter as if on a first date: Would he like me? Would we get along?

We took to each other easily, spending two hours in our first meeting playing with toys and exchanging high-fives and small hugs. He’s a calm child who can focus on play or any activity for an hour at a time, rarely fidgeting.

I learned that he was born to a drug-addicted mother, though he had no drugs in his system at birth. He was placed in foster care soon after his birth, and he landed in my life because his foster mother, at age 63, felt she would not have the energy to raise him.

Charles called me Mommy for the first time just five days after he moved in with me. Within six months, my spacious apartment was awash in orange trucks, race cars, and every item connected to the Blues Clues franchise. I love my life more than ever. While I’ve always been proud of my Emmy award and getting to know famous and powerful people, none of it compares to my son’s smile and hugs.

Years from now, when my peers are bouncing grandchildren on their knees or living in quiet retirement, I’ll be helping Charles select a tuxedo for the prom or buying him his first car. I wouldn’t trade that future for anything in the world.

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