When Cleveland and Lisa Cox returned their 9-year-old adopted boy to Butler County Family and Children Services Oct. 24 they didn’t tell him he wasn’t coming back home with them, only that he was going to a hospital to be “fixed” of his allegedly violent and aggressive behavior toward the family that has had him since infancy.
What had the Cox parents done before that day?
What therapy and counsel had they sought and received as a family? Had they called a caseworker or a social services worker for help or advice?
Did they get the boy into psychotherapy and it hadn’t worked?
Did the Coxes go to the ends of the earth?
Had they reached the end of their collective parental rope?
Lisa Cox, who wrote the letter left with the boy’s few articles of clothing, wrote he’d been “a threat to the family’s safety” and that he’d threatened them with a knife. She also wrote she wanted the boy to land with the right family, that she loved him and would never forget him and that she was heartbroken he “could no longer be part of our family.”
This family and this case will go down in the annals of adoption as a textbook example for everyone lined up along the adoption process — caseworkers, social workers, people who think they want someone else’s child and especially someone else’s child — as a case study of the humanity involved in taking on the not-so-pretty responsibilities of raising a stranger’s seed.
Plus, what does “returning” someone else’s child say about the returning parents’ tenacity and commitment, strength and energy, patience and love, all qualities we assume adoptive parents naturally show their biological children when a family — like the Coxes — is blended with adopted and natural children?
What do we really mean when we talk about adoption?
Are we talking about suspending the fantasies inherent in bringing a stranger into the house and pretending the child came from within? Do we mean to say we will overlook the flashes of eccentric, oddball or antisocial behaviors of this outsider and look past the fact that we cannot genealogically connect those behaviors to any likewise off-center relatives, that we don’t know why this kid from someone else does what he does?
Does this someone else’s child ever frighten us?
Ideally, adopting families have so much love and, if they’re blessed, financial and material resources to give a child in parental limbo that their zeal may not match up with reality.
Sadly, all needy children aren’t matches for all adoptive families.
I remember when it seemed de rigueur for whites to adopt black (African) babies and those little black bodies hung off the hips of new white parents like status symbols, as if their well-meaning checklist was now complete.
I couldn’t cop an attitude because whites simply outpaced blacks with the means and the will to adopt and save black babies from loneliness and the loss of identity.
I personally know more whites with adopted black babies than vice versa, a completely unscientific fact but a telling one, nonetheless.
And all the adopted black babies came from environs of stress or trauma — single moms who already had young children they could barely care for or drug-addled mothers whose babies are better off without them.
So to see a black family publicly wrestling with adoption is but one surprise in the Cox debacle; the other jolt is watching a black family publicly “returning” a (presumably) black child.
This shocks my sensibilities because black children are already stamped “returned” in so many other ways: returned to the previous grade by schools that fail them beyond letter grades; handed back over to abusive or neglectful parents by neglectful and overwhelmed social service agencies; sent back by the justice system to neighborhoods where they know how and where to become repeat juvenile offenders.
The Coxes’ case belches up more questions than it can ever answer, but I want to assume the Coxes first tried everything before they dropped their boy off. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt that inside nine years they considered every angle, every degree of reason, every creative solution before the Oct. 24 drop off.
I see on TV news reports the Coxes can barely hold their heads up and their eyes are always downcast. They know they’re being judged long before their February court dates where they’ll have to answer to misdemeanor charges of nonsupport of dependents.
This is serious, this parenthood thing.
Still, what if adoptive parents like the Coxes acted like giving their adopted son back wasn’t an option?
Because what do biological parents do when they wake up one day and realize their child might be a sociopath, that something just isn’t right with the kid?
I am ambivalent toward the Coxes but intrigued by what they claim their adopted boy has done to them because what’s on the line here, if they’re telling the truth, is their family’s safety versus the trauma and rootlessness of the boy once it sinks in that he’s been given up by the family who saved him.
Who’s to say which is more important?
Whom among us would risk our families in favor of proving to a troubled kid who may not even have the capacity to understand the depth of such love that we love him enough to sacrifice the greater good for only him?
I would not.
But I also would not leave him with a letter and a bag of clothes in the hands of strangers.
I’d sit in every drab office, listen to every social service lifer, drive to every specialist, wear out every pencil filling out every form, call any and every support group, Google search every possible combination of words describing his behavior, summon every prayer warrior, convene a priest to perform an exorcism, try every cocktail of prescription drugs, start a blog, find his biological parents and demand answers...
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: firstname.lastname@example.org