DADE CITY — Please forgive Jan Slater if her wish list is a little long.
"Let's see … a pedicure, P.S. I Love You DVD, a Vera Bradley purse, Pampered Chef tools …"
It's her first Mother's Day, and she's reveling in it like a newly crowned queen in a fairy tale. It's a position the 44-year-old never thought she'd be in.
As a teenager, Slater developed severe endometriosis, a disease of the uterine lining. Doctors told her then that it was highly unlikely she would ever be able to bear children.
At the time, the news didn't hit Slater, who busied herself with a career in human resources. She got married, divorced, remarried. A hysterectomy in her 30s sealed the deal. In 2004, she had turned 41. And the sobering reality of a childless future hit her like a sudden labor pain.
It was Mother's Day, and Slater was at church. The pastor recognized all the mothers and asked them to stand. Almost all the women rose. Slater looked up at them from her pew.
"I'm not ever going to be a mother," she thought. She got up and walked out of the sanctuary.
That's when the depression set in. Slater couldn't stand to be around pregnant women. She felt empty, alone. She discussed her feelings with her gynecologist. "Why not consider adoption?" the doctor asked.
Slater talked to her husband, Erv. He wasn't interested. But then a little girl came to church with a foster mother. Slater bonded with the girl, who was about to be adopted. But the adoption fell through, and Slater and her husband decided they wanted to be her parents. They called the agency. No, they couldn't adopt until they had passed screenings and taken training. The girl was set to be placed with another family.
The Slaters wanted to be prepared in case that adoption also fell through. They took 30 hours of classes, had every inch of their home inspected and had to fill out loads of paperwork.
By the time the Slaters finished, another family adopted the girl. The Slaters asked to adopt another child, preferably a school-aged girl. "Our hearts were touched," she said.
Get ready, then wait
Adoption involves a lot of waiting and plans that fall through. The Slaters were no exception. Their caseworker called and said they were one of two couples deemed a perfect match for a sibling pair: a boy and a girl.
The Slaters worried about whether they could manage two. Jan prayed and read the Bible. She kept coming back to a verse in Proverbs:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
She wrote the verse in dry erase marker on her bathroom mirror. The next day they told the caseworker they'd take the pair. Soon, the caseworker called back. The other couple had been waiting longer, she said, so they would get the children.
The Slaters prepared for another wait. But the next day, the caseworker called and told them another brother/sister pair had just entered the system.
Slater said she knew when she saw the boy's picture that they were meant to have two kids. His were the saddest eyes she had ever seen.
A week later, they met the kids at Malibu Grand Prix. Caseworkers were all around. Slater felt like a teenager on her first date. She bonded easily with the 8-year-old girl, but she wasn't sure about her 12-year-old brother. Then they shook hands.
"I'm Jan, and I hear you like fishing."
"Yes," the boy said.
Right then she knew everything would be fine.
Six more weeks and a few visits later, the children moved in. Everything they owned was in two black garbage bags.
A family completed
In fairy tales, this is where the story ends and everyone lives happily ever after. But this is reality, and Jan Slater is quick to point out how new life barely resembles her former one.
Three loads of laundry a week has turned into nine. Gallon jugs of milk that used to last a week now last two days. Jan used to leave work and meet Erv for a relaxing restaurant dinner. Now Slater, who is executive director for the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, goes to work to relax. And even a trip to McDonald's can cost as much as $40 a pop. So she cooks a lot more.
The kids, who gave themselves new names, have already tested their parents. Gavin just completed a stint of no television for writing something bad about a classmate and not owning up to it. Gabriella says she doesn't always tell the truth and likes to talk at school.
But both children say they don't mind the punishment if it means they get to stay with the Slaters, who have already accompanied them to parent/child events and are planning a family vacation to Daytona Beach.
"My parents understand me," Gavin said. "My father doesn't despise me."
"We feel very safe," said Gabriella.
Recently, Gabriella took Slater's face in her hands before bed and said life would be ruined if not for her.
"We thought we had everything," Slater said. "They have completed us."
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.