Originally published under the title “Finding Perfection” in the July 2019 Family Issue of Local Profile
When I arrive at the Harrison family home, Debie and her husband Ron extend a warm welcome, invite me inside and introduced me to Lucy, the new family dog. It’s very quiet. Their son, Dom, is asleep.
Everything is very neat and minimal; the most noticeable decorations are the photos, which were situated very intentionally around the home. The parents eagerly showed me pictures that reflected their son’s comfort with the camera and what felt like a genuine, happy, and radiant personality. Everything is “just so” — no fuss — just calm, warm, and direct, much like the Harrisons. There isn’t a lot to see; there’s more to feel — deep warmth, serenity, calm, and love.
We chatted candidly about children, education, cultural sensitivities, diversity and universal parental concerns. We spoke in general terms about adoption and many nuances associated with transracial adoption. It was clear that Debie and Ron maintained a sincere sense of love and kindness for humanity, and I was excited to learn more about their story.
While our space for the evening was peaceful and calm, with Lucy snoring in the background, the Harrisons recall a time when life wasn’t quite so serene. It was five years ago, and they had just brought their son, Dominic, home from the hospital. The transition didn’t go quite the way they planned.
“We had a Pack-n-Play set up for him in our room. Our plan was to move it from our room to the living room so he could sleep in there when we were watching TV during daytime hours,” Debie says. “We got home with Dom and tried to move it, and it wouldn’t fit through our door, so Ron made the first of many runs to Babies ‘R’ Us and got a fold-up bassinet for him for the living room. When he got home and opened it, he had accidentally picked up a pink one. We put a sports blanket in it to make it ‘boy’ friendly. We still have that fold-up bassinet. I’ll never get rid of it.”
Like all first-time parents, the Harrisons experienced butterflies when it was time to take Dom home.
“The most sobering moment is when you leave the hospital. The nurses and doctors are all gone. No one is doing anything; it’s on you,” Ron said. “You’ve got a little tiny bag, and you just buckle your baby into a car seat, you start the car and it’s like, ‘Okay, what now?’ There is no manual. You have to feed this [child] and keep it alive. And you go on down the road.”
Debie emphasizes that she and Ron had exactly the same apprehensions about their growing family as any other parents. In general, becoming a parent carries with it so many unknowns. Ron also recalls feeling nervous and sleep-deprived, but neither he nor Debie would trade what they described as an “unforgettable” experience.
“Holding him was holding a miracle in our arms,” Debie says. “It was very emotional. It was surreal, and it still is.”
Ron continues, “You think you know what love means, but when you’re holding your son, you start to realize that you couldn’t comprehend it. You can’t put words to love because you didn’t know what it was … For him, this is pure love. It is ‘I love you because you are here, and there is nothing you [need to] do for me.’ This transcends; it is Godly love.”
From there, the couple says they developed a schedule and had a routine for feeding Dom that worked for them, and they went on about loving their new family and living their lives.
From the moment we begin talking about Dom, Debie and Ron made clear they understand the ramifications of race. They are not Black, yet they’re raising a Black man. It’s a reality they do not take lightly, and as such, they capitalize on every opportunity to learn. They aren’t shy when it comes to asking questions and when necessary, having uncomfortable conversations about race and racism.
“We’ve had to ask a lot of questions about everything from the right hair care for him to more serious questions of how to ensure we raise Dom in a culturally appropriate manner,” Debie explains. “We have always told Dom that he is adopted, and there’s absolutely no shame. We take extra steps to ensure we include diversity in our everyday lives, which has enriched us greatly. We’re proud of Dominic being Black, and we want him to be proud of it as well.”
It’s been eye-opening.
“We didn’t realize how little exists in our world for kids of other races in regard to toys that look like them or books that have characters that look like them [for example], until we had to look and found it’s very skimpy. That was a challenge for sure—and disheartening,” Debie says.
But Ron offers another perspective, one he and Debie prefer to think about. They see a hidden blessing in all of these experiences. He believes that God has given them the opportunity to “straddle two worlds” and learn a new perspective, one they weren’t born with and didn’t have five years ago.
“Now our attitude is ‘challenge accepted,’ and I will spread the message and hopefully open minds,” Ron said. “Deep down, I think people are open and want to talk [about it] and share what’s unique about them. But most people are uncomfortable going there – for fear of judgement.”
The Harrisons note that despite overall support, judgement can come from even the most unexpected places, and that all they can do is educate and extend grace.
“I describe our family as a conspicuous one, and Debie agrees,” Ron says. “I am a believer, and everything has a plan. God built our family this way because he knew we had the grit and gumption to be a conspicuous family. And so I believe He is using our family to show that love is love and families are families. And that’s our mission—to go out there and show that whatever preconceived notion the world has about how a family should look—we’re shattering that.”
Armed with that level of understanding, adoptive parents can move on with the important and enjoyable aspects of raising a family – like planning a “baby-que,” their personal and unique spin on the traditional baby shower. Ron explains that most good adoption agencies will instruct hopeful, adoptive parents to not go overboard on decorating a room and having a large baby shower prior to the birth of the baby. Expectant birth parents sometimes choose to parent instead of making an adoption plan for their child when the child is born. This is recommended to protect the hearts of everyone involved in the adoption plan. Debie and Ron were both excited to finally start planning their baby-que because it’s more than a celebration of their new son. It’s a sign that the waiting period is finally over.
“It was at a neighborhood restaurant where we rented out the back room and invited friends and family,” Debie says. “We had barbeque. Some dropped off gifts. Everyone passed around the baby. It was awesome, a very happy memory.”
As Ron and Debie reflect on the adoption process, they advise those considering adoption to be prepared for the overwhelming experiences—the endless questions from family and friends, their own worry and waiting, the mountains of paperwork, the emotional roller coaster associated with wondering if you will be chosen, the chance of finding out at the last stage the adoption is not going to happen. The realities of adoption. They also encourage expectant parents to thoroughly vet adoption agencies, to make sure the agency acts in ethical manners and protects all members of the adoption triad.
As for those considering a transracial adoption, the Harrison emphasize the importance of preparation.
“You have to be willing to be uncomfortable at times. You have to come out of your bubble. It won’t work otherwise; you will harm the child,” Ron says. “You must be ready for the judgment, and no matter what, you always, always, always have to put the child first.”
Regardless of the enormity associated with adoption, and in their case transracial adoption, it goes without saying that the couple feel blessed to be raising Dominic. It’s a joy to celebrate the day the adoption was finalized, and to raise him and discover his personality as he grows; for example, he loves football, NASCAR and hotdogs. Debie and Ron remember every day to embrace Dom’s culture, and appreciate the way in which it enriches their lives. If given the choice, they would choose Dominic over, and over, and over again.
“He has the biggest and kindest heart and a personality that lights up the whole room,” Ron and Debie say. “He is like a key that fits a lock. We [were building our family and] stopped at perfection.”