Reimagining Families

Foster dads Stuart Rosen and Scott Lardizabal will show that love really does define family when they tie the knot just moments before a judge declares the adoption of their oldest son, “O”, is final.

“We’re just waiting for the court date” Stuart said, “We feel it’s the perfect time to truly become a family.”

“We used to go dancing and travel and now we’re sitting around the dining room table singing our ABCs,” Scott said, laughing. Added Stuart, “You know your life has changed when someone asks you if you’ve seen any good movies lately and your answer is ‘Moana’s pretty good.’”

Stuart, 55, and 53-year old Scott, welcomed “O”, 11, last year. “D”, who is three and a half, came into their life right after the one year anniversary of the older boy. Their hope is to officially adopt “D” early next year.

Stuart and Scott didn’t expect their journey to lead to fatherhood when they met 27 years ago, in an acting class.

“We were rehearsing a scene together and there was an acting exercise that called for us to stare into each other’s’ eyes for ten minutes,” Scott recalled. “But,” Stuart chimed in, “we stared for hours.” “…in the moonlight,” Scott added. Finally Stuart concluded, “We went from scene partners to life partners that night.”

Stuart credits Scott with always being the catalyst for change in their life as a couple, beginning with a mundane trip to buy fish food.

“I’m highly allergic to cats, but they had a huge sign in the window, saying ‘Cat Adoption,” Stuart explained. “Oh oh,” he quipped, “’here we go!’ and, sure enough, we went home with a cat.”

“Later, when we were boarding that cat in a cat hotel, a little kitten put its paw on my foot, and… well, we added another kitten to the brood,” Stuart explained.

Years later, Stuart received an email about an adorable puppy that needed a loving home. “All it took was having that puppy’s head on my shoulder for it to become a ‘done deal’,” Stuart recalled. “It was all very ‘organic’. Something new would come up, and we’d just shift as if it had always been that way.”

It was that way when the two saw a movie that inspired them to talk about their next dreams. Stuart talked generically about following goals and finding one’s spiritually and expected Scott to do the same. Instead, Scott was very clear, “I want to go to All Saints Church.” This took Stuart by surprise, at how specific it was, but after thinking about it, he replied, ‘If it’s important to you, it’s important to us’ and so they attended service that very next Sunday. They quickly became enmeshed in parish life, volunteer as ushers, serving on committees and organizing some of the church’s largest events.

Raise a Child is a longtime partner with All Saints Church in Pasadena, California, promoting foster care and adoption, so it was just a matter of time before it caught their eye.

“Of course, the catalyst for the next chapter was… Mr. Scott,” Stuart added, “Scott said, in his sly way, ‘let’s just go check out this Raise a Child workshop’, and you know what that means… Here we go again!”

But it wasn’t a joke. Seeing all the photos of children in the room really woke them up. “Here were real children, with real needs.” Stuart remarked, “Everything just transformed that day.”

During the certification process, they fantasized about the future, creating a private Facebook group called “Finding Our Family”, and made plans for their still imaginary family that included a son they named “Tommy.”

“It was a way for us to discuss issues, work out problems and prepare ourselves to be parents,” Scott noted.

After one last childless trip to London, Stuart and Scott returned home to complete their foster home certification and, they thought, begin the long wait to be matched with a child who needed a home.

“But things moved very, very fast,” Scott exclaimed. During a home inspection, the caseworker told them about a little boy who would be “perfect” for their home. “We were literally certified for just a few days when we looked at each other and said, ‘this is really happening… right now!’” Scott continued. “I got goosebumps,” Stuart chimed in, “This isn’t a made-up Tommy. This is a real, live child who needs us.”

When they met “O”, who was already in foster care, his foster dad cautioned that “O” would probably be very reserved. Instead, he was a chatty bundle of energy and the three made an instant connection.

“His foster dad told us that he asked “O” why he felt so comfortable with us and “O” replied, ‘Because they get me.’ Then boom-boom-boom, it happened. We were getting a son,” Scott explained.

Over the next five weeks, Stuart and Scott visited with “O”, often taking him to dinner or the park. When it was time for “O” to move to his new home, the nascent family enjoyed what Stuart described as a very soft landing.

They met “O” and his foster dad for dinner, then went shopping for Star Wars-themed bedding and took “O” home. His now-former foster dad even got to tuck him into bed and say, “good night.”

“We didn’t want this transition to be some official delivering “O” to our door with all his worldly belongings in a garbage bag. We wanted it to be special… for all of us,” Stuart said.

Today, “O” is a thriving student athlete, earning good grades and active in karate, basketball and church choir; a testament, according to his dads, to how love and encouragement can affect a child.

“We saw that his circumstances were bad, but his potential was unlimited.” Stuart beamed, “We believe our role as parents is not to raise children, but to raise adults; and that childhood is just a phase they’re going through to get there,” Stuart said.

Both of them are educators who place a high value on learning. Stuart produces instructional videos for animal hospitals and Scott is a producer of online webinars, which allow him to work from home.

“That’s always been our inside joke: the kids can never get away from school with us as parents,” Scott laughs.

Recently, Scott, the force of change, told Stuart they needed to talk about another foster child. They wanted to expand their family, but originally had in mind an older child, yet younger than “O”. Instead, Scott revealed, “they have a three and a half year old.”

Stuart recalled, “I said, let’s do what we did with “O” and go meet him. He, too, was gregarious and energetic; and, when I picked him up, and he put his head on my shoulder, that was it. I knew right then and there that our hearts, and our family, just got bigger.”

According to Scott, “O” is a terrific big brother, nurturing “D”, playing with him and even helping care for his little brother.

“He often says to us, ‘You go ahead, I got this,’” Scott said proudly.

Stuart and Scott credit much of their success as a family to their extensive support group, which includes friends and relatives, fellow members of All Saints, the staff at Raise a Child, as well as the adoption agency, Five Acres.

“Build your support group and then rely on it,” Stuart advised, “Five Acres has been terrific. If we have a question or issue, we just pick up the phone. They’ve seen us through every step of the way.”

Among the advice, Stuart and Scott will impart to prospective parents at the All Saints event is to remember that there are three parts to foster care, in their words, “kid stuff”, “foster stuff” and “court stuff.”

Scott noted, “A lot of what you learn in training is meant to scare you (and it does) but, if you remain flexible, and calm and lean on your friends, you’ll be ok. Parenting is not easy, but if it’s in your heart, you’ll do it.”

Stuart continued, “You must ask if a certain behavior is normal kid stuff or a byproduct of foster stuff. You have to remember that, as a foster parent, you have no rights in the court. Everybody around you might consider you a ‘nobody’, but in the end, you’re really the most important nobody in somebody’s life.”

Stuart concluded, “The greatest advice we learned during our training was to ‘love them anyway’. Whether they will be with you for a day or a year… whether they’re acting out and you think you can’t handle it… whether a parent or relative suddenly wants custody… love them anyway. This moment.”

“Go into it with open eyes, open arms and an open heart and, no matter what… love them anyway.”

Stuart and Scott will be featured speakers at the annual Fostering and Adoption Awareness Day at All Saints Church in Pasadena on Sunday, May 21, 2017 from 12:30 to 1:30 pm. RSVP at https://raiseachild.org/events/.

Have you thought about building a family through fostering or adoption? RaiseAChild is the nationwide leader in the recruitment and support of LGBT and all prospective parents interested in building families through fostering and adoption to meet the needs of the 425,000 children in the foster care system of the United States. RaiseAChild recruits, educates and nurtures supportive relationships equally with all prospective foster and adoptive parents while partnering with agencies to improve the process of advancing foster children to safe, loving, and permanent homes. Take the Next Step to Parenthood at www.RaiseAChild.org or call us at (323) 417-1440.

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