The Right Match
Mike and Sue O’Bryan of Jamesville are the parents of two teenagers. Between sleepovers, homework, dance lessons, baseball, football and soccer games, and band concerts, one aspect of their lives is consistent: Family comes first.
But the O’Bryans’ story is a little different from most families’, even those who also have children through adoption. When the couple began looking into domestic adoption as a way to build their family more than 13 years ago, they figured they were in for a very long wait. So they enlisted the help of two different agencies.
The O’Bryans were first matched with son Scott, a boy of Jamaican and Hawaiian lineage. A mere six months later, the couple was matched with another baby: tiny, blond-haired Lily. With that, a full life with two very different siblings began. Today, the two 13-year-olds are eighth graders at Jamesville-DeWitt Middle School.
The O’Bryans recently shared some thoughts on adoption, teen life, acceptance and the ties that bind.
John Berry photos
Sue: When we first started applying for adoption, there was a three-year wait. But within a year, we had two children. The unique part of our story is that they both came to us so quickly—and, obviously, so close in age.
At that time, you submitted a profile and the birth parents could choose who they wanted. Scott’s adoption is still the biggest mystery to me. We found out about him at about 3 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon and by 11 o’clock that night we had him. We went to New York City to pick him up and within nine hours we had a family.
Lily’s adoption was through the first agency we started working with. Again, they told us it could be a long wait, but the birth parents chose us. Scott’s adoption wasn’t even finalized yet. I remember our social worker said, “Your love will not divide, it will multiply.” So, in came the second baby six months after the first. The first few months with two were overwhelming because it happened so fast.
Mike: We had no user manual.
Sue: Even back then they were different in terms of their needs. She has always been tiny; he’s always grown fast. He was 11 pounds when he was 5 days old and she was 11 pounds when she was 5 months old. It’s always been like that. He’s been twice her size all their lives.
Mike: But they’ve always had a close bond. By the time they were toddlers, they were always dragging each other around in wagons. He would jump out of his crib and go to her in the middle of the night. When they started school, they would meet each other in the hallway.
Sue: Their teachers were right next to each other and they knew that there were times they needed to see each other. Lily might not want to remember that now, but that’s what happened.
Lily: I just remember going to school, and him making sure I was nowhere near him. (Laughs) But now that we are older, there are some positives. If I miss school, he can help me catch up on the work. Negatives? Being that we’re in the same grade, I have to go to every baseball and football game—that stuff.
Normally, if I have to have a talk I go to one of my friends, because boys don’t really know what girls go through in middle school. Boys normally like to hang out, and the girls normally like drama, gossip, drama.
Scott: I think maybe when we’re older, in high school, I’ll like having a girl’s viewpoint if I’m interested in a girl. I can go to her. Right now, I would say the thing I like best about Lily is that she cares a lot about people—compassionate.
Lily: For me, it’s that he’s very dedicated to what he does—like baseball.
Scott: Now, we have a lot of different interests. We fight a lot. We don’t do a lot together anymore because we don’t like the same things. We still talk and hang out, but we don’t go outside and shoot hoops together or play catch.
Being in the same grade isn’t always easy. One of the negatives is having to explain to a lot of people that we’re brother and sister—because we look different.
Lily: I have to go through that every
single day, explaining how we’re brother and sister. I don’t understand how it’s so difficult. Just the other day, somebody told me they didn’t believe that Scott was my brother. I’m like, “Yeah, we’re adopted.” He said, “So am I. So, what color are your parents?”
Sue: One assumption that gets made a lot is that Lily is not adopted and Scott is.
Scott: People think that a lot.
Lily: It’s because I look like my mom.
Sue: Just recently, I was telling someone that Lily was adopted and we don’t know her ethnic background. She said, “Oh, I didn’t know she was adopted.” If I’m with him, well—obviously we’re two different-colored people. If I’m with her, no assumptions are being made.
Mike: When Scott was a baby, people thought he was our grandson or something.
Sue: By that time, we started opening ourselves up to the fact that there are so many multiracial families: families of mixed race. Another gift of our adoption of Scott is that it opened our eyes to a lot of things we may not have noticed in this world either.
Scott: The biggest thing I’ve noticed (by being part of a multiracial family) is how people expect black people to act. They expect them to talk differently and stuff. I’ve never really felt like I had to act differently than anyone else. I think you should just be who you are.
My closest friends know pretty much everything about me, but some people may ask me about adoption because they don’t really get it. They wonder if I came directly from Jamaica, and wonder how the adoption works. They ask me if I ever lived with my birth family, but I don’t remember them because I was a day or two old when I was adopted.
Mike: We don’t even think about it now. Sometimes we have to remember that they are adopted. I’ll say things like, “You get that from your mother’s side.” (Laughs)
Sue: Someone said to us when we were adopting, “Some days you’ll be an adoptive family, some days you’ll be a multiracial family, but every day you’re going to be a family.” When it comes down to it, this is the family we were meant to have. It’s the right family for us.
By the time the kids came into our lives, we were at the place where we would have had an open adoption but, unfortunately, neither of their birth parents chose that option. But, to me, that’s who they are and they deserve to have the opportunity to explore those relationships if they chose to. We are very open to that when the time comes for them. Lily was very curious, which I think enhanced her relationship with her foster mom. She’s able to have that connection.
Mike has a sister who was placed for adoption at birth. We met her and her family when he was in his 40s. So, we know both sides of this. Being able to be connected with her and her children, it just feels right. She has her family she was raised with, but now she’s a part of our family. I wouldn’t want to cheat my children out of that opportunity to connect with their biological family.
Scott: I’ve thought more about my background lately. I do want to meet my birth parents when I get older.
Lily: I don’t.
Sue: I remember when we were going through the adoption interview process, on every piece of paper we got the question “What are your expectations of your child?” I thought that was a ridiculous question. I just expect they will be happy. But I think one of the cool things about adoption is that I really do not have expectations of them; I don’t expect her to play softball just because that’s what I played in high school. I don’t expect him to want to play trumpet because that’s what Mike did.
I think it’s really cool to see how they develop and have their own interests and we’ve really tried to foster that. I was not an Irish dancer or a soccer player like Lily is. Mike was not a baseball player or a football player like Scott is. It’s about just letting them have their natural talents and natural interests, and fostering that. That’s what’s cool to me. I just don’t have those expectations of them being like either one of us. It’s been fun to watch them develop into who they are meant to be.
Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier for them if they were not in the same grade at school and had the opportunity to develop different peer groups.
Mike: It’s always been a joke of mine when, at work, if someone was getting ready to have a child, I’d always say, “Well, don’t have another one four months later.”
Sue: But everybody has to take their own journey to parenthood. We are where we are meant to be. I truly believe that. So, everyone has to take the path that’s right for them. If that’s to combine adoptive children and biological children, then that’s what’s right for them. I don’t regret for a second them coming into our lives, or the timing of it. That just added to the fun.
Adoption & Counseling Services, Inc.
307 S. Townsend St., Syracuse. 471-0109.
Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth.
1065 James St., Syracuse. 679-3626 or 401-1094.
New Hope Family Services.
3519 James St., Syracuse. 437-8300.
Onondaga County Department of Social Services, Homefinding Unit, Children’s Division.
Mulroy Civic Center, eighth floor, 421 Montgomery St., Syracuse.
Hillside Family of Agencies.
215 Wyoming St., Syracuse.
(585) 256-7500. www.hillside.com/adoption/.
Award-winning writer Tammy DiDomenico lives in DeWitt with her husband and two sons.