Meant to Be: Mandee Schoolcraft
Having biological children in this day and age is met with some debate. With the progression of the world, and the ever increasing cost of living, many would-be parents aren’t able to afford additional family members. Others struggle with infertility, and realize that having a family naturally isn’t an option. Still others question why they would have biological children at all, when there are so many already in the world who need love and a good home.
If you need help now: Adoption and Surrogacy Choices of Reno has been providing adoption and surrogacy services across Nevada since 2012. You can call us to speak to someone now!
For Mandee Schoolcraft, it was a bit of Divine Intervention. We had the honor of hearing Mandee’s story, and how she weathered through her rather difficult adoption journey with an amazing amount of love, patience and courage. The following interview is shared with Mandee’s expressed permission, including the use of her own name and that of her husband. Per Mandee’s request, her boys are portrayed below through nicknames.
There was so much detail shared that not everything was able to make it into this article; however, Mandee plans to write books about her experience, and have them published one day.
RR: What was your path to adoption like?
MS: Well, my husband and I had been married for about six years. After two years of trying to have kids and then early fertility intervention, we found out we had to go through IVF treatments — something neither of us wanted to do. Partially because of the cost, and…because there are so many other kids who need homes. So why risk having a litter of kids? With adoption, we could choose how many kids we wanted; with IVF we could have been faced with a pregnancy of multiples and forced to make a decision to reduce to a reasonable number or risk losing them all. Not something we were willing to do.
Four months after the boys were placed with us, I was diagnosed with Lupus. That was pretty intense for all of us. We then had to decide whether or not we were actually going to adopt the boys — we had been fostering them — because we wanted the best for them. With my serious medical condition, we wondered, “What kind of life can we give them?” When the diagnosis came…I wondered what I should do. Was it fair to do this to kids who already had needs that surpassed a typical biological kid?
We decided to keep them and prayed that we could create a village of support that would help us to make their lives amazing. And, we just couldn’t give them back. They were ours. They are better kids, I think, because they do have a mom with a serious health condition. It’s made them more empathetic, compassionate and helpful. They are more naturally inclined to help now. A great outcome for a less than ideal situation.
RR: Had you been interested in adoption in the past?
MS: Adoption is always something we’d considered…we didn’t ever think it would be our only means of building our family until we were presented with infertility. Then it became obvious to us that this is how we were meant to be parents.
My parents fostered when I was little. I had 15 foster siblings — all older girls in their teens. My parents tried to adopt two of them, but in the ‘70s and ‘80s the court wasn’t so keen on terminating parental rights, and none of the birth parents wanted to give up their rights to their kids. So, we had legal guardianship until the kids aged out, but we don’t have contact with them now, unfortunately. It feels like a piece of my life that I didn’t see to fruition. Foster-adoption has given me a chance to see it through this Te around.
My husband also had a similar experience. His cousins were fostered through kinship care. So, for us, it was an something we always felt inclined to do.
RR: How has adoption impacted your life?
MS: It’s been an interesting journey, for sure, especially with the health complications. When the boys came to us, they each had dealt with a lot of trauma. They’d had no real home structure before they came to us, and they had never had any type of consistent discipline in their lives so they came with some lovely adolescent behaviors. They had one gunny sack for the two of them, full of old, ripped and stained clothing. T had a little Tech Deck — a tiny skateboard that you use your fingers to skateboard with. MJ had a piece of fabric — fleece — that was supposed to be a blanket. Really old and worn. They came with nothing else that was their own. I have memory boxes for both boys and these items are each included, along with many other things from “big” events over the years. They’ll get the memory boxes when they are adults so they have something to look back through with memories from their childhood.
Getting the boys was nothing like having a newborn. They came to us with fully developed personalities and attitudes, walking, talking (oh the language!), and knowing so many things that we hadn’t taught them. We didn’t get the chance to watch the early milestones being met, or nurture them as babies. But, we did get to experience so many other milestones because they were still young (4/5) when we got them.
I’ve learned so much over the years — I have more empathy and compassion for other parents who are experiencing similar issues at home. I’m a psychologist and I work with kids, and as a result of raising these two boys, I’ve pretty much earned by PhD through parenting my kids. (laughs) Adoption, as a whole, has made me a strong professional in my field. By far. Leaps and bounds of learning. I told my son, MJ, “I’m learning how to teach parents to parent kids like you.”
I got a puppy six months after the boys came because I needed a baby to nurture. I had this need for someone tiny who needed me and my kids were a little too old for that. I didn’t get to do any of the ‘baby stuff’ with the boys. I hadn’t wanted to adopt a baby because I felt like we weren’t meant to raise a child from infancy; we wanted older kids. But, then I needed a baby, so I got a tiny dachshund puppy and the puppy fixed my temporary need. He fixed so many things for our family, and brought us all closer together because we had to take care of him as a family.
RR: How many foster homes were the boys in before you?
MS: Just one. They were there for two years. But the family ran it like a business. Several family members also fostered. They were with one gentleman and his wife. He was getting healthy stipends, and he had eight kids in his house, 3 his own. His mom took in six kids, and his sister had another five or six. The kids would just be grouped together, and then rotated. When he and his wife split, his girlfriend moved in, and Social Services wasn’t aware of that for a while. But they were just in that one home for two years. They were very fortunate that they didn’t bounce from home to home. Especially because T has so many behavioral issues.
Both of the boys have had counseling, and lots has come up. Being a psychologist myself, you have an idea of how badly a kid might be traumatized. But I had no idea it was to such a level. My older son, T, was only six weeks old when CPS had to be called for the first time for neglect. He stayed with his birth mother until he was three. He couldn’t be removed from the home because there was never any proof of neglect or maltreatment, and his birth mother bounced counties. Then she got pregnant with my younger son, MJ, when T was about 8 weeks old. We don’t know who the birth fathers are, and she doesn’t either.
T’s trauma is pretty profound. Neglect from infancy on is just the start. He has an attachment disorder, so it’s hard to have a fully-functional relationship with him. He’s bipolar and on the autism spectrum. He is very high-functioning, but struggles with social skills and social queues. When things change — he doesn’t handle that well. On top of that, he has a mood disorder. He gets enraged very easily, with irrational thoughts and feelings. It goes up and down. We use a lot of sarcasm in our household. It’s how we parent, because there’s so much sarcasm in the real world. In doing this, it’s helping T catch up with the world, we hope.
RR: Do your boys know that they are adopted? Why or why not?
MS: Oh yes. They were a part of the whole thing, and both know of their statuses. It’s important for us to share their story. I think it’s the most important thing in the world. Hopefully it’ll get other foster kids adopted.
I always say, “I bought my dogs, but I adopted my kids so don’t judge.”
MJ…he’s hilarious and extremely athletic and intelligent. A sarcastic little punk, just like his dad (laughs). His birthday is the same day as mine, which is a cool blessing. And he’s just the joy of our lives. He’s told us that he doesn’t need to know his birth parents because we are the parents that God meant for him. He’s 11 years old now, and told me that when he was only nine.
Within a month of being placed with us, MJ was calling me “mommy.” For T…he was uncomfortable with it for a long time. It took him about two and a half to three months. He would call me “mom” to see how it fit. How it sounded. Then, it eventually became a habit. Same with “daddy” and “dad”. MJ took to it at the same time as “mommy”, while T took a bit longer.
After they’d been with us for about eight or nine months, we started talking about adoption. We were having so many problems with T at the time that my husband and I weren’t sure about our intent to adopt. We knew we couldn’t give up on them, though and made the decision to move forward.
RR: How did you come to adopt them officially?
MS: On August 11, we got a call that we’d been matched for foster-to-adopt. At this point, we’d been waiting for nine months. The paperwork, the home study — all of that — was done. We figured we would give it a year, then pull our names off the list and raise dogs the rest of our lives. To not put ourselves through all the heartache of waiting and waiting, with no phone call.
We wanted older kids and a sibling set of girls. We didn’t know, of course, how it would all work out. When we got the phone call, I was getting ready to go to Disneyland with my best friend to spend time with my young nieces. I saw it was the social worker and answered with, “Oh no. What do you need?” She said, “No, no, you’ve been matched! There are these two boys. I know that they aren’t the girls you wanted, but they are four and five years old. Parental rights were terminated two days ago. What do you think?” Termination of parental rights is very rare where we live, so to have to have rights terminated before placement — it was shocking. It meant we didn’t have to risk losing our kids to the bio family.
On August 18th, we were presented with the case about the boys. That’s when I found out that MJ’s birthday is the same as mine. T’s is the same as our oldest nephew. So it felt very meant to be. We had to wait 24 hours after the presentation to say whether or not we wanted to proceed. And, of course, we proceeded.
On August 31st, we met them for the first T. They were cute and adorable, and within three weeks they were placed with us permanently. It was done fast. We went from August 31st to September 17th to become adoptive parents. That’s our “Gotcha Day.”
We have two important days that we acknowledge each year. September 17th is our “Gotcha Day” and December 3rd is “Forever Family Day.” We go out to dinner or do something special on those days. We will talk about what we remember of the original day, what has happened since, and how things have changed.
I have a picture of our day in court that hangs above our fireplace. It’s one with all of us and the judge. I got a matte frame for it and had everybody who was in court with us sign it. Then, I have “Schoolcraft” framed above that. It’s the one of the first things you see when you walk into our home.
RR: What is the foster-to-adopt process like?
MS: It’s long and emotionally difficult. We had to become licensed foster parents first, which entails a lot of classes, fingerprinting, background checks, and paperwork. After that, we had to become foster to adopt certified, which is a very invasive and emotional process. In-home inspections to make sure we didn’t have hidden rooms where children could be held captive, and child-proofing everything. An extensive background check including interviews with us, separately, then with everyone on our list of references, all to make sure we were good enough to be parents. All parents should have to go through the process!
Once you are matched and have your child for at least 6 months, you can then petition the court to adopt. Once the petition is granted, it’s pretty quick from there. We had to wait 10 months before we could petition because bio mom was contesting the termination of her rights. We knew she wouldn’t get them back but it was still nerve-wracking to have to wait.
The actual adoption process is done in two steps. First, the social worker comes to your home and has you sign paperwork. This is when you can change the children’s names, if you choose to. We did. Then, for the second part, you go to court. Our court day on December 3. Our family, friends and all of the social-workers and attorneys who’d worked the boys’ cases came. We had about 30 people there, all in the courtroom with us. The judge thought it was the coolest thing. She’d never seen that many people for an adoption hearing. It showed her that we were truly meant to be the boys’ family.
The boys were five and six years old at this time, and were both really excited to become Schoolcrafts! That they were going to be in a forever home. T came up to me and said, “This is our last bus stop, right?” I asked him what he meant. He said, “This is the last time we have to get on the bus to go somewhere, right? Like, we are going to stay with you guys?” I was so inspired by this, I wrote a children’s book to help other foster kids relate. Once it’s published, all proceeds will go to foster care programs and scholarships. T’s analogy of their journey was the catalyst for the book, and I plan to do other books, too. The boys are really excited about that.
RR: Despite the struggles, how have the boys responded to you and Jody as their parents?
MS: Not every foster kid, adopted kid or even bio kid has a good story, and we are trying to give them the best story we can. We knew from day one that the most important thing was to make them feel safe. In fact, ask either of our boys. We have two roles as their parents. The first is to make sure they are safe. The second, to make sure they grow up to be good men. That’s the part of our story that we really hone in on. We will ask them: Is this going to keep you safe? And how will that help you become a good man? We emphasize accountability, independence and responsibility. To say “yes, ma’am” and “yes, sir.” To help others, and offer help even if it doesn’t look like they need it. To have a good moral compass.
They aren’t huge video gamers — they don’t have any unsupervised social media time, and can’t go anywhere unsupervised. They go outside like kids used to, when we were growing up. Even though some of their make-up games can result in bruises, they have fun and are making great memories.
Despite his mental health challenges, T’s a good kid. He gives us a tough time at home, but outside in the world…I see him interacting, and he’s someone I can be very proud of. My boys look for ways to protect others, and they are both doing awesome. I hope this kind of behavior continues.
RR: What was the most unexpected aspect of the adoption journey for you?
MS: How many people still to this day tell us that we are heroes. We don’t feel like we are. That’s not why we did this. We just wanted to be parents. I think we did the right thing for our two little boys.
RR: What was one of the highlights of the adoption journey for you?
MS: That we’ve made it this far, and are alive and intact. That I can take my kids out in public, and they will be good kids. That they have overcome those first few years at such a young age. They are nearly 12 and 13 now. I can confidently say that I like who my kids are, and that I now have a “normal family.”
We weren’t normal for the first five years; but, in the last two or three we’ve shifted. We bought a home in 2016 and we call it “our forever home.” The boys got their own rooms. MJ settled down right away. T had to learn how to be independent. But it made us into a real family.
We are very intentional in everything we do. I want them to look back and say, “I owned my story.”
RR: What advice would you give to other adoptive parents looking to adopt?
MS: Be patient. Don’t set your expectations too high. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Never be afraid to ask for help. Put yourself out there. Network. Work with other people who have adopted, or who are going through it. It’s so easy to get caught up and feel alone. To not connect with others who have been there. Adoption is still such a private thing for so many that we don’t share our stories right away. Make it a point to learn and share. It helps others so much.
Foster adoption is my experience. My passion. I offer my support in any way I can. I’ve worked with quite a few families who have foster-adopted kids. It’s very different than bringing home a baby from birth. Or even a one year old. I can be that support now. I’ve made it to the other side.
Anyone considering adoption — make sure you have a partner. Don’t do it alone. It’s too hard to do it alone.
Adoption and Surrogacy Choices of Reno has been providing adoption and surrogacy services across Nevada since 2012. You can call us to speak to someone now!