The optimistic hopes of a sweet and playful 13-year-old boy searching for his future adoptive family.
Written by Leda Eizenberg
Photography by Ashia Ray
“Because you know with all your being that it is the other way around.”
– Kathy Lynn Harris, ‘Dear Mom of an Adopted Child
Three extraordinary things
The voice on the other end of the phone stops me cold.
“Leda, you can’t adopt a thirteen-year-old,” she says, knowing about my small kids who fill my days to bursting.
“I know,” I say, “But he’s such a fantastic kid. I worry about his chances of being adopted.”
I’m talking to my best friend, who used to work for DCF. I just finished my meeting with Seth, and I’m gushing. “He was so warm, and kind, and so interested in me, in making sure I was comfortable.”
I’m right to worry about Seth’s chances for adoption
That a teenage boy who’s faced so many challenges remains so open and thoughtful strikes me as nothing short of a miracle.
And a miracle isn’t just what Seth and his future family needs, it’s what they deserve.
He’s a teenager, a boy, and he’s on the autism spectrum – three things which cause potential families to overlook him. But they’re the three things that make him so extraordinary, and such a wonderful son – if you see in him what I did.
At first Seth seems shy, tossing me quick glances from beneath his fringe of pumpkin colored eyelashes. Before our meeting, Kelsey, his caseworker, explained that he can be quiet at first. This isn’t uncommon for any teenage boy, never mind one for whom social interaction can be a bit of a challenge. What surprises me is how quickly he warms up.
Every child deserves a loving and stable family, of course. But in the hour we spent together, it became clear how much a family would thrive with the love and certainty that only Seth could bring to them.
Part of it is that he struggles to connect with people at adoption parties – he’s happy in his foster placement, and it’s easier for him to connect with people one-on-one or in a small group.
But mostly, he’s afraid of getting his hopes up.
Apple cheeks & puppy feet
Seth moves like a puppy, with floppy, oversized feet. As a newly-minted thirteen-year-old, Seth is taller than both me and Kelsey, but his height is a new thing for him. He has the soft the face and voice of a little boy and his cheeks apple-up as he flashes me a smile.
I stretch out my hand to shake his, then remember that thirteen-year-olds don’t usually shake hands. But he grips my hand and shakes it with a quick nod and another bright and fleeting grin.
As we chat more, I realize that I’ve kept my sunglasses on, which seems unfair to a kid who’s likely been encouraged to work on his eye-contact. After I push my glasses up onto my head, he begins to steal more and more glances at my face, particularly when I mention my own children.
Cheerful & empathetic optimism
Seth loves sports, and has easy fluency and an encyclopedic knowledge of them. His boyish voice gains momentum as he offers his opinion on the big Celtics trade—he’s sad to see Isaiah Thomas go, particularly given his emotional connection to the city, but is willing to trust in the wisdom of Danny Ainge.
This genuine compassion is the type of thing someone who misunderstands autism might be surprised to hear, but it clearly demonstrates Seth’s empathy and understanding of the emotional nature of the trade.
I compliment his Edelman jersey, and we talk through the Patriots. He patiently forgives my lack of knowledge, and shows himself to be an eager teacher, helping me understand the dynamics of the team this year. While he’s clearly unhappy about their season-opening loss, there’s a cheerful if cautious optimism to his opinions on the rest of the season.
I inwardly marvel that a child who’s clearly experienced a great deal of loss truly still believes that things will work out.
Hopes of belonging against stacked odds
The more time I spend with Seth, I see how truly unfair his adoption challenge is.
I want to have the same optimism about Seth’s future—he’s such a loving and thoughtful kid—but I know the odds are stacked against a thirteen-year-old in need of adoption far more than against any sports team.
We don’t talk about adoption or about his ideal family. Although Seth is legally freed for adoption, we don’t want to introduce the idea until there’s more certainty around it.
The vulnerability and uncertainty of putting himself out there and asking for a new family is really too much to ask of any child, especially one who has endured loss and heartbreak before. Factoring in that with a complex family history, Seth finds uncertainty even more stressful.
I understand why we can’t talk about adoption, even if it’s what he desperately needs. What he needs most is people who not only love and understand and appreciate him, but who also consider him wholly theirs.
Humor & Wit
Once we’ve exhausted sports (thanks to my paltry knowledge) our conversation falters a bit until Kelsey gets him talking about another passion—comic book superheroes.
He prefers Marvel to DC, and when I confess to not knowing the difference, he starts listing heroes for me. It’s here that I first really get to see that offbeat sense of humor I’ve heard about from everyone who knows him.
Looking down, an ant catches his attention, “Thanks, Mr. Ant, for reminding me about Ant Man,” he says, and we both giggle.
When he’s finished my tutorial, Kelsey asks Seth if she can tell me about his writing, a web series entitled ‘The Smelly Adventures of Fart Man,’ a hero who uses toxic gas to subdue villains such as the bank-robbing Wedgie Woman.
Wedgie Woman, as it turns out, is merely lonely and seeking attention, so Fart Man ultimately befriends her and the two play video games at Dave and Busters.
Seth is shy but proud as he recounts some of his stories, and Kelsey later sends me the link. Their humor is exactly what I’d expect from a clever kid his age, but I’m struck too by his optimism, by the way everything works out in the end, and how our flatulent hero doesn’t just catch the bad guys (or girls), but helps them become better.
Seth seems disappointed when it’s time for him to go. We make our way to the Boys and Girls Club because he wanted to show it to me. I had asked if he spent a lot of time there.
He doesn’t, so his interest in showing me around strikes me as particularly thoughtful. As we sit on a bench in the gym, a basketball flies past us and out the door. Seth springs up and grabs it for the kids who’ve lost it, tossing it back with a friendly smile.
Again, his anticipation of others’ needs and comfort impresses me.
Justifying Seth’s optimism
And now Seth needs us to do that for him. We need to think of his needs: for love, stability, a family, and a home. What I hope for more than anything this holiday season is that we can show Seth that his optimism is warranted.
He’d do best in a family where he is the youngest child, with any configuration of parents, where he can maintain a relationship with his older brothers and uncle.
Seth loves spending time with his older brothers and uncle—who is taking him to a Red Sox game the following weekend—and he and his foster mother get along well. Her name peppers our conversation, and when Seth talks about his room overcrowded with belongings, or bemoans the slowness of her computer, he does so with familiar love and affection.
But they can’t give him everything he needs. He needs parents – ones who will give him a sense of permanent and unshakeable belonging.
Let’s all be Fartman and save the day
(But without the smelly gas.)
Seth’s chances of finding adoptive parents diminish every day as he grows older. Will the family who enjoys his kind, silly humor ever find him?
Or will he be left to age out of the foster system, poured into a world without connection and guidance?
Please share Seth’s story far and wide and help him find his forever family.
[Video description: Seth’s feature on ‘Wednesday’s Child segment visiting the New England Sports Museum. He’s shy and nervous, and in the video, we hear his quiet, boyish voice and soft giggle.]
Other ways to help
Even if you’re not prepared to adopt Seth, you can still do something to help him, and kids just like him, find their way home.
- Share Seth’s story so it’s more likely to reach his forever family. How wide this article spreads depends on your willingness to speak up and share it.
Does your heart recognize the boy in these pictures? Could you be the one he’s waiting for?
This session is from the Somewhere Out There Series, sharing the experiences of kids in foster care.
Leda E. is an author, teacher, mother, allistic ally to the neurodiversity community, and founder of the progressive local activism group Action Squad Wellesley and Go-High, pooling local donations to make a big impact.
Ashia Ray is a documentary photographer, mother, autistic self-advocate, and founder of Books For Littles, inspiring parents and educators to raise a new generation of kind & brilliant leaders through children’s story books.
If you enjoy the Somewhere Out There Series, find out how to support this series on Patreon.