And now Patty makes five: Margaret and Curtis Upshaw

Families with adopted children just add love
Pamela H. Sacks

As they prepared to adopt a third child from foster care, Margaret and Curtis Upshaw had some specifics in mind.

The Upshaws already had adopted two boys, Michael and Mark, who were teenagers, and all four agreed that a new sibling should be younger – but not too young – and enjoy the outdoors. They also were inclined toward adding another brother to the household.

When Mr. and Mrs. Upshaw went through a book of photos and information about foster children put out by the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange, no boy fit the bill. But they were taken with a girl named Patty, and they learned that she was about to be featured on Jack Williams’ “Wednesday’s Child” show on WBZ-TV. The Upshaws tuned in to watch Patty pick fruit with Mr. Williams at an apple orchard.

“She was bubbly, with a shy smile,” Mrs. Upshaw said in a recent interview, warming to the recollection. “She liked to swim, ride a bike and play basketball and soccer.” The couple had read that when Patty was not on the go, she liked arts and crafts and reading. “We liked that because we’re always on the go,” Mrs. Upshaw said. “That all fit in with our family.”

The Upshaws took the next step and met Patty, accompanied by her foster mother, at an ice cream parlor. Patty recalled that she was very excited.

“I felt right away that they might be the right family for me,” she said.

Last December, Patty moved in with the Upshaws, who live in Petersham. Today at 9:15 a.m., Mr. and Mrs. Upshaw will formally adopt her at a ceremony at the Worcester Trial Court. Patty, now 14, is among 200 foster children in Massachusetts who will be adopted at eight courthouses across the state to mark the sixth annual National Adoption Day. Mike, who was adopted in 2001 and is now 19, will attend with pride. Mark, who is 17 and joined the family in 2004, will speak during the ceremony.

The Upshaws are often asked if their children really feel like theirs. Mr. Upshaw said the answer is yes.

“Since the first day you see a picture of the child, you form a bond,” he explained. “It just starts to build. They are born in your heart, and they are like your own. You start feeling like that before you adopt. You ask why it’s taking so long.”

For foster children and their new families, formal adoption brings a long and often bumpy journey to a successful conclusion. Patty is excited and a little nervous about the ceremony. She has invited several school friends to the house afterward to celebrate.

“I can’t wait,” she said. “It’s what I hoped would happen.”

Just about every conceivable type of family adopts foster children. Lisa Funaro, executive director of MARE, a private nonprofit organization dedicated to finding permanent homes for foster children, said that the more successful parents are usually flexible. They understand what they can and cannot handle and set realistic expectations.

“These kids have been traumatized, and they express it in very appropriate ways,” Ms. Funaro said. “Some are quiet and shy and others express it in explosive kinds of ways.”

The children require patience and understanding, as well as a structured home environment, she said.

“Love doesn’t cure all,” Ms. Funaro said. “These kids had less love and attention than many kids, but the kind they need isn’t always just what they want. More times than not, our children thrive with structure – as I think most kids do.”

The Upshaws decided to adopt when they found they could not have biological children of their own.

“We knew we wanted kids because we like to go out and do things, and we wanted to share that with children,” Mrs. Upshaw said.

They were watching “Wednesday’s Child” one day in 1999 when Mike, who was 10, was featured. They called to inquire, took the required eight-session training course and underwent a home study.

“We were scared that he wouldn’t like us or we wouldn’t like him,” Mrs. Upshaw said. “We knew everything about him and he knew nothing about us.”

Mike moved in several months later and went on to graduate from North Central Charter School in Fitchburg. He plays the guitar and is working odd jobs while deciding on his next step in life.

Mr. and Mrs. Upshaw heard about Mark through a social worker. He was 12 at the time. They took him hiking.

“He just had this smile, and it was on his face the whole time,” Mrs. Upshaw said. “We took pictures of each child the first time we met. Mark had his arms wrapped around us. He wasn’t going to let go.”

Mark is a senior at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School. He plans to either join the Marines or become a state trooper and would like to attend college.

Patty is in eighth grade at Mahar Regional School, where she is succeeding in academics and is on the middle school and junior varsity soccer teams. She said her biggest adjustment was getting used to living in the country after having been a city girl.

All three adoptions are open, meaning that Mike, Mark and Patty have contact with at least one member of their biological families.

“The adoption world has realized these children don’t spend years with birth families or foster care and just sever all connections,” Ms. Funaro said.

There are currently 10,000 children in foster care in Massachusetts. Of those, 2,400 have the goal of adoption and 600 have no potential families identified for them, according to the state Department of Children and Families.

“Our job is to make the public aware that there is this need right here in your town, in your neighborhood, on your street,” Ms. Funaro said. “We ask people to keep an open mind about building a family this way. Make a call, make a visit. Just think about it and keep your mind open to this idea. You could really be helping a child.”

The Upshaws adopted foster children because they knew of the need. They said that Mike, Mark and Patty have enriched their lives beyond expectation.

“People always say to the kids, `You guys are so lucky,’” Mr. Upshaw said. “I always say, `We’re the lucky ones.’ We really are.”