The child known as “Baby E” stands outside the Daley Center on the day she officially was adopted by Oak Lawn resident Linda Panico.
Room for two!
According to the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS), Linda Panico’s Oak Lawn condo has just enough square footage to accommodate raising two children.
Living unwed and child-free, Linda found herself longing for motherhood. So she took the reins of fate and signed up for the Foster to Adoption Illinois program. Her journey began in May of 2012 and came to fruition Feb. 15, 2017. On this day, a 4-year-old miniature Cinderella I’ll refer to as Baby E officially became Linda’s daughter.
Valentine’s Day was working overtime!
The outpouring of love for this child is so great it sends shivers through my spine. Hearing about Baby E’s adoption day was ear candy. Over 30 family and friends commuted into the Chicago Loop and packed a Daley Center courtroom for the official news. For those unable to squeeze their rump in the 15-passenger van rented for the day, they trailed by the carloads. There were two professional photographers on hand to capture the exuberance in and outside of the Daley Center. Between the adoption day selfie frame, ‘it’s official’ poster and custom made matching T-shirts, there was plenty of posing going on.
The T-shirts, which read “It’s Official. I’m a Panico!” included a photo of Baby E with her adoption date. They were worn by a fleet of people.
“In total, 125 family and friends wore the T-shirts on her adoption day,” said Linda. “The people that couldn’t physically be with us texted pictures of themselves wearing the shirts. It was overwhelming. I received several hundred congratulatory messages.”
Linda said she even provided T-shirts for the presiding judge, her attorney and the state's attorney. She and nearly all of her associates seemed to be celebrating Baby E. After all, as written on her sign, she had been in foster care 1,385 days. But Feb. 15, 2017 wasn’t one of them.
Linda said the foster care process went faster than expected. After passing an FBI background check and 27 hours of parenting classes she was granted a foster care license from Springfield. She was told it could take up to six months before a child came into her home. Nonetheless, Baby E was placed in her arms within the same month of receiving her license.
Linda reminisced what it felt like when she and 13-month-old Baby E first met.
“She was barely awake. They handed her to me with the clothes on her back and one diaper,” said Linda. “They said, ‘Here she is, she’s yours,’ and just like that, they walked away.”
How ironic. In similar fashion, that’s exactly what happens to mothers who give birth. We’re given this little lump of joy and sent home from the hospital after watching a couple of hours of parenting videos. Yet, somehow, we all seem to manage.
Love leads the way.
Unlike the foster care process, an adoption process can be lengthy and stressful with hope uncertainties on both sides. While the adoptive parent or parents hope for an opportunity into parenthood, the biological parent or parents hope they won’t live to regret their decision to relinquish the baby.
For some parents, unfortunate circumstances lead them into that direction.
It was a Chicago police officer by the name of Officer Diaz that suspected the then 13-month-old Baby E needed to be removed from her mother’s custody. Her biological baby brother, whom we will call “T,” made his way into the Panico residence much sooner than 13 months. He was seven days old. Little brother T, now 2, and Baby E are said to be happily inseparable.
Baby E and her little brother T, whose adoption is still in process, are incredibly lucky. They have a biological mother who loved them enough to allow them to be loved and cared for by someone else. That takes great courage and I applaud her for giving these precious children the gift of a life with Linda Panico.
An emotional and teary Linda expressed compassion around the situation that brought these two special people into her life. She's merciful, protective and selective when she speaks, choosing to be considerate of everyone involved. She's doing what good mothers do; we protect each other and refrain from judging. She's only spoken of their biological mother with empathy.
“I'm grateful to her, I don’t want my gain to be her loss,” Linda said. “I include her in their lives. We talk on the phone. I send emails and share pictures.”
Parenting isn't easy, it takes daily sacrifice and a willing heart to learn, give and teach. Some people simply aren't equipped to be parents. They do not possess the skill nor do they desire to learn what's essential to providing the nurturing, safe care children need. Adoption for their children becomes just as crucial as those who are orphans. When Linda's children are older and mature enough to understand, she’s prepared to provide the details of how a single, white female became the mother of two, half African American and half Honduras, children.
“I was asked if I had a race preference,” said Linda. “Race doesn’t matter to me. Race was never a question. They've been loved and accepted by me and my entire family from the very beginning.”
Linda said being a mom is going well. She said she's labored through a few challenges the children have experienced while adjusting to their new environment. Yet, she’s done it with a smile -- some days a few tears, and a sense of humor.
Honey -- that’s all of us. Welcome to motherhood!
Linda Panico’s condo may only have room for two, but she has the capacity in her heart to house a Hilton.
If you’d like to learn more about the Foster to Adoption program visit.http://www.adoptuskids.org/adoption-and-foster-care/how-to-adopt-and-foster/state-information/illinois
Claudia Parker is an author, photographer and a reporter. Her columns appear every second and fourth Thursday of each month. She can be reached at AuthorClaudiaParker@yahoo.com.