Wednesday, July 29, 2009

3 Years & Counting...

Today, my wife Tara and I are celebrating our third wedding anniversary! It's been a whirlwind of awesomeness these past thirty-six months in a number of ways: We've bought a house. We've made a bunch of new friends here who we consider family at this point. We're in the process of welcoming home a son or daughter at some point in the near future. And let's not forget, the Phillies have won a World Series during our marital tenure. What I'm finding lately however, is that a lot of people are asking about the prequel...the story before the story, if you will. So in an effort to satisfy the fans, I present to you Episode I of the Alan & Tara story.

In the Beginning - Fall 2000
I met Tara Siegle when I was a junior in college at Arcadia University. Tara had just entered as a freshman. I don't recall the first time we met face to face. My first concrete memory of her was sometime in late 2000 when I was taking the bus home from the mall. Tara hopped into the bus, saw me, said hi, and then said "Oh wait, I didn't want to get on this bus!" and proceeded to jump off before the driver pulled away. Typical Tara. Oh well, it was a good thing I guess. I had one of those facial recognition things going when I saw her, but couldn't pinpoint her name at the time. Over the next couple of years in college, we solidified a tremendous friendship (starting with my learning her name of course). We felt comfortable talking to each other about most things going on in life and just about stuff in general. There were no strings attached and no ulterior motives on either side. We had a genuine care, trust, and respect for each other.

Post Graduation - 2003-04
After I graduated, Tara had one year of college left and she and a few other girls moved into an off campus apartment in the fall of 2003. I found myself hanging out there a lot and probably overstayed my welcome on more than one occasion. But nothing had really changed between Tara and I. We cared for each other, but that was pretty much the extent of it. Things took a different turn in the spring of 2004 after a bunch of us took Tara out for her birthday in April. At one point during the evening, I hugged her -- something I'd done many times before -- but this time it was...different?! I still couldn't tell you what the difference was, but I wasn't the same. I just sort of wanted to hug her...a lot...and a lot. I laughed it off later that night as I went to bed, but over the next few weeks, Tara and I began hanging out more and I began developing this scary feeling that I really wanted to be her boyfriend?!...and you know, maybe get married one day?!...and then be parents together?!...Whoa!...settle down self!!! I kept all of this quiet for a few weeks until one day in an awkward phone conversation, I blurted it all out to her with quivering quakiness in my voice. I held out some sort of naive hope that Tara would totally reciprocate. I was respectfully, but articulately shot down. Thanks, but no thanks Alan -- I'll keep your name and number on file should the need arise.

Ok, it wasn't that harsh, but it was a bit of an uphill battle. Slowly but surely, Tara gave in to the darkside of the Force and we started dating in the summer of 2004. June 21st to be exact. Yes, I will always remember that date. Go on and laugh if you must. From then on, God began working amazing things in us as we grew together as an official couple. We were always comfortable talking, praying, laughing, and crying with each other and we knew we'd really have to rely on God's strength to get us through what was to come next.

The Separation - 2004-05
In the fall of 2004, Tara left for Mission Year, an inner city missions experience that would consume much of her time over the next year. This wasn't a surprise thing by any means. Tara had been planning it for quite some time before we even started dating and I had no intentions whatsoever of talking her out of it. Throughout that year, we actually managed to grow closer by being apart. Words took on a whole new meaning since they had to take the place of hugs and kisses most of the time. And still, we found joy in talking, praying, laughing, and crying together, even if we couldn't always be in the same location. We learned a lot more about each other during that year as we continuously encouraged and built each other up in the good times and bad. It was a true test of our relational strength and while it was sometimes difficult, I thank God that it happened that way right at the beginning instead of way down the road. It was a beautiful picture of what the Lord can and will do when he's at the center of a relationship and I'm truly humbled by it.

The Return - August 2005
Tara returned from Mission Year in August 2005 and moved into an apartment in the city with two other girls. At the time, she began a new job as a 5th grade teacher at a nearby elementary charter school. If you know anything about teaching in the inner city, then I need not list some of the hardships that Tara faced during the school year. At the same time -- being the loving gem that she is -- she went out of her way to understand her students, met them at their levels, and showed that she really loved them and wanted them to succeed and make wise choices in life. After all, some of these kids had parents doing heavy jail time and had been bounced around from relative to foster family for years.

During this draining time, Tara and I began to discuss the glorious, magnificent, and perilous topic of engagement. We thought it would be somewhat wise to at least let her get through a few months of teaching before REALLY broaching that subject, so it really wasn't brought up much again in great detail for some time. I was a little bit worried at the time about my being able to be a solid, providing husband because although I was working, it was a temp job and wasn't full time. I was working hard to land a full time job with benefits and was pretty stressed out about it. Amazingly, instead of walking in fear, Tara simply encouraged me and said she wasn't worried and that there's never really a "perfect" time to get engaged anyway. She knew that God would provide and she expressed how much faith she had in me and my ability to be a hard working, dedicated husband, no matter how unstable things looked at the time. I'll never forget how calming those words were. Her steadiness has since had a profound impact within our marriage, as I have a tendency to get really worked up.

The Engagement - December 2005
Around the beginning of December, I was clearly getting the feeling that Tara was getting engagement antsy, so I decided this was it! I bought the ring and planned to propose to her the following weekend. As I was running through possible proposal options in my head, a surprising turn of events occurred. Tara and I were informed that one of our mutual friends was having a surprise birthday party thrown for him that first December weekend in New York where he lived, and we were invited to attend. I had one of those slow motion, light bulb moments..."We'll be in New York...Tara likes New York...I could propose in New York...Tara likes New York...this is the coolest idea ever...Tara likes New York!!" Yeah, it went something like that in my head.

After surprising my friend for his birthday, we went back to his place and crashed. The next morning, Tara informed me that she wanted to sight-see around the city. As if on cue, I "grumbled" a little bit about being dragged out of bed. Oh yes, everything was going according to schedule! My plan was to propose at Rockefeller Center in front of the huge Christmas tree. When we finally snaked our way there, let me tell you, "crowded" is not the appropriate word choice to describe how many people were there. I'm talking NO breathing room. But I guess it made sense since it was Christmas time. At that moment, the Command Center in my brain sent a message to the troops to abort the mission and we left that area with no rock on Tara's finger. Eh, it was probably too cliché to propose in front of the famous tree anyway. At one point, we walked past a jewelry store that contained the word "diamond" in the store's name. Tara looked up at the store and said "Oh look Alan...DIAMOND!!" -- a blatantly sarcastic hint-hint. If she only knew...

We finally made our way to the Little Italy section of New York where we planned to eat dinner before catching a train back to Philly. After an exhaustive search, we settled on a cute little restaurant called Casa Bella and ordered our dinner. I knew I'd better get this over with before attempting to eat, or believe me, it wasn't going to be pretty. I reached into my coat pocket and held the ring box under the table. Now let me tell you, aside from that first time I told Tara I wanted to date her, I've never been nervous to talk to her. However, I felt a little light-headed as I pondered the fact that this moment -- my actual engagement proposal -- had always been thought of in my head as a future event. I couldn't believe I was actually living it in the moment. So in typical Alan fashion, I got weird and asked her jokingly if she was still happy with me. The rest becomes a bit of a blur, but from what I remember, I told her how much I love her, how much she means to me, and that I would be honored if she would spend the rest of her life with me as my wife. I busted out the ring and put it in front of her. Somehow, she avoided choking on the bread roll she was eating and managed to emit a "yes" as I put the ring on her finger. We then shared a big huggy moment, at which point I noticed a few heads turn as people tried to act like they weren't watching this monumental event. I didn't care. I wanted the whole world to watch! Afterall, it's not every day that you come to New York with a girlfriend and leave with a fiancée!

To Infinity & Beyond...
Seven months later -- on July 29, 2006 -- we were married in Hatboro, PA. We moved into the city and four months later, brought home our first new addition to the family: our dog, Bailey. Currently, as many of you know, we're in the process of adopting a baby and growing our family even further. Tara is no longer an elementary school teacher but, in a much better fit, is now a campus ministry director and mentor to college students at Temple University. I'm now working as an Online Editor at UPenn's Center for the Advanced Study of India.

I couldn't be more honored and humbled to be going through all of this with anybody but Tara: my bedrock of support, encouragement, joy, and without a doubt my best friend. She has helped me to grow as a man of God, a man of character, and is continuously a living example of what it means to put others ahead of yourself. It also doesn't hurt that she's hot! As I reflect on the journey that got us here, I'm becoming more and more excited about what's to come in the years ahead.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"I'm not your *bleeping* Mommy!"

This past Friday, the new horror film Orphan was released across the country and three days later, is number four at the box office, with a rating of nearly 7 out of 10 on Not too bad for an opening weekend.

Even before its release, I heard a lot of buzz about the film, so I finally looked into it. The premise of the film involves a married couple named John and Kate (such original names!) who suffer a stillbirth and as a result, their marriage takes a hit. To get things back on track, they decide to adopt a nine-year-old girl named Esther from a local orphanage. Once they bring Esther home to be their daughter, a bunch of unexpected things begin to happen -- namely, she starts killing people (big surprise!). From here on out, Esther naturally poses a threat to John, Kate, and their two biological children. As a result, she is no longer seen as their daughter and member of the family, but as an outsider...a curse...something to be contended with and, if necessary, exterminated.

The initial promotional ads for the film contained the tagline:
"It must be difficult to love an adopted child as much as your own."

Wait....WHAT?!?!?! Are you freaking KIDDING ME?!?!?!

Think about this for a second; would you EVER expect our culture to stand for the following movie promo taglines?:

"It must be difficult to love a retarded child as much as a normal one."

"It must be difficult to love a gay child as much as your straight ones."

"It must be difficult to love a black child as much as your white ones."

No, you would never see those, nor should you. Such taglines would be hideous and deplorable and would surely sink a film before its release. But the reason for Orphan's tagline is simple: it's perfectly acceptable in our society to attach stigmas and false stereotypes to adopted children and to specify the fact that they are adopted as much as possible, especially when they go through even the most normal of developmental issues. Thankfully, due to very necessary outcry from the adoption community, the film's sick tagline has since been removed and changed to run two interchangable taglines of "I don't think Mommy likes me very much" and "There's something wrong with Esther."

To be honest, I'm not a fan of those two new taglines either, nor the entire premise of the film for that matter. The general theme seems to be that adoption is something to be feared, especially if you choose to adopt an older child because the bottom line is they're not your real family. This stranger-brought-into-the-family scenario doesn't contain much logic however. While I've personally seen a lot of people make some seriously horrible choices with their lives -- people who've been raised by their biological parents no less -- those people were never treated as non-family members or had their rightful titles of "son" or "daughter" stripped from them.

Without giving away too much of Orphan's final plot twist, the scene at the end of the film between Kate and Esther climaxes with Kate screaming "I'm not your f---ing Mommy!!!" -- a proverbial nail in the coffin, so to speak, in which it is made absolutely and unequivocally clear to the film's viewers that when things get really bad with your adopted child, it's in the parents' best interest to completely divorce the parent/child relationship, because hey, they're not really "your" kid anyway! They're just orphans.

What's the point of writing this? Some have said it's just a movie, no big deal. I disagree. People are constantly going into filmmaking because they want to get some sort of cultural message out. Movies have the capacity to bring issues and concepts to light in both positive and negative ways. Often times movies put spoken words and pictures to what our culture is really thinking but maybe doesn't want to say out loud because it's just not PC. On top of that, movies tend to influence our culture in profound ways towards even the most basic aspects of life. Tons of people were afraid of showering after the release of Psycho. People didn't want dolls in their houses after seeing the Child's Play movies. The presence of dogs instills panic for some because of the film, Cujo. And I personally know people who are terrified of clowns because of the film, It. It's not out of the realm of possibility for Orphan to have the same effect on people who might be thinking about adopting a child, yet choose not to out of fear of bringing home another Esther. And what about the people who might not be interested in adopting, but start to look a little differently at the adopted kid down the street? How about all of the adopted kids in school right now who are going to have to listen to the taunts and labels thrown at them as a result of this film? All of this might sound far fetched, but the next time someone tells you they don't stereotype, just ask them what movies they watch.

My point is not to say you shouldn't see Orphan, but to think about and even speak out against the overall context and the utter falsehoods contained within the premise of this film. At a time when our society should continuously be promoting the beauty and necessity of growing families through adoption, this film appears to remind viewers that adoption is nothing but a risky, second best option.

If you're interested, please check out Orphans Deserve Better - a grassroots initiative launched after the release of this film, that works to take the side of children who don't have the power to speak for themselves.
This entry was first published on my adoption blog: The Atchison Adoption Story.