Hi-Line Living: Life After Adoption
September 16, 2016
Randy and Amanda Christofferson couldn't have children. They both wanted to, badly, but Amanda said she couldn't conceive. So in 2010, they started fostering children, and over the next three years, they would foster a total of nine.
The departure of the last two children really upset them, especially, they said, because they were made to believe those would be the ones who would finally become permanent family.
"The week before Christmas, the social worker from Great Falls told us, 'Looks like ICWA (Indian Children Welfare Act) is going to step away - the kids will be yours. You can tell your family over Christmas,'" Amanda said.
Randy added: "We're all stoked, because we have a little boy and a little girl."
By the middle of January, the kids were taken away.
"The grandma didn't like the idea of them going to us. The rest of the family - we went over to Browning, met with the whole family - they all liked us," Randy said.
They said they fought to get the children back. Amanda said she even "got vocal" with senators who were working on foster care bills. But it was all in vain. The worst part about it, they agreed, was what happened afterward.
"They ended up going to another house, to a cousin, we'll say - that's what she supposedly was," Randy said. "Wasn't two months later, three months later - they were nearly dead. They were back in the system."
Then came Faith and Owen.
The Christoffersons, both in their 30s, got both children at birth through private adoption. They are biological cousins. The parents couldn't take care of the children.
"The first one, she definitely wasn't in her right mind. She made the best possible decision," Amanda said. "As for Owen's parents, that was a rougher adoption, just because it was a married couple and the mom made the decision on her own while dad was behind bars. There was some resistance."
Getting Faith and Owen, who are now 3 and 2, was expensive.
"They came in and interviewed us - asked us questions about our routines, inspected the house. We paid $4,500 for two of those," Amanda said. "And the next two, they came back and asked us if there were any routine changes with the kids - 'Are they eating six ounces now, or are they eating 12 ounces?' They charged us about $2,500 for each of those visits."
Randy is an engineer for BNSF Railway. He is gone for days while working. Amanda has a part-time job and she also has a side business where she sells products for 31 Gifts and collects commission.
"I initially started to sell because we had the opportunity to adopt our daughter, and we needed cash," Amanda said.
To add to an expensive adoption, it soon became apparent that both Faith and Owen have special needs.
Faith suffers from fetal alcohol affects and among her challenges has random anger meltdowns.
"Oh, yeah. When she has her little mental break, you'll know it," Amanda said.
"When the temper gets going - " Randy said, pausing and substituting further words with a head nod indicative of the severity of Faith's outbursts.
Last week, Amanda was in the play-therapy room of their home, and Faith was calmly playing with building blocks. Amanda said that earlier in the day, during a therapy session in Billings, Faith erupted, scratched Amanda in the face, drawing blood.
Amanda drives to Billings for Faith's therapy sessions almost every week. Faith, the parents said, has six mental health diagnosis.
What they're learning, Amanda said, are the triggers to Faith's meltdowns and how to anticipate and avoid them. The other side of that coin is learning what calms her.
Then there's Owen, who, because his mother was using opioids while pregnant, came with his own list of difficulties.
"I was in the hospital with him for a week, because he spent some time in the nursery, went through withdrawal in the nursery, wasn't breathing - different things like that," Amanda said. "He wouldn't open his eyes."
After opening his eyes, Amanda said she noticed something.
"I marched him up to his doctor and said, 'That's not normal - his eye is creepy,' was my exact words," she said.
Owen was found to have a rare disease in his left eye.
Owen has had 15 surgeries. He recently had his bad eye removed - which is a good thing, Amanda said.
"He's going to get a brand new eye for his birthday. ... he's a whole new kid now," she said, smiling.
For Randy and Amanda, there was never any question whether they were going to have children. Children were such an essential part of the plan that Amanda said the lack of might've ruined their marriage.
"I probably would have left him," she said, with Randy sitting nearby. "I didn't want to burden him with not being able to have children. I knew I couldn't give him a child and I didn't want him to be stuck with somebody that couldn't, even though he said he'd be fine."
Randy said he has always wanted kids - he made multiple jokes about having enough for a football team - but wouldn't have left Amanda because she couldn't give him kids.
Now they have two, and despite the medical issues, the Christoffersons said they wouldn't change a thing.
"Before adopting, you always know there is a possibility that the kids will have problems," Randy said.
"I've actually had people ask me if I could take them back," Amanda said. "Sometimes, I answer nicely. Sometimes I don't."
Thursday of last week, Randy had just returned from a work trip to Whitefish and Amanda from Billings with Faith. Everyone was home, including two energetic 13-year-old dogs - a Boston Terrier named Winston and a miniature Dachshund named Zeek - and an orange and white cat named after the Texas Longhorn mascot, Bevo.
The Christofferson's home has a large basement with a spacious living area that may be turned into a partial man cave at some point in the future. There's a Foosball table, two soft and inviting couches on either end of the room and a few framed Texas Longhorn memorabilia waiting to be hung on the wall.
A large table with a bright, almost neon, pink cover, where Amanda sometimes puts together the tote and bag packages she delivers to charities, also occupies the room. Last year, she said she was able to gather 50 sponsors to buy the bags, after which she bought the supplies to fill them and give to foster children.
No one was putting together any packages for foster kids that Thursday.
With music from the television speakers filling the room, at least three living beings at a time were running, dancing, laughing or jumping. And the dogs, despite their age, were every bit as rambunctious. Zeek, the Dachshund, was either chasing one of the children, or parents, across the room, or a ball, while Winston was always part of the action.
When it comes to music, Owen likes to dance to Buddy Holly, which makes Randy a proud papa, and Faith to early 2000s pop. Despite being smaller, Owen can jump on the couches just as easily as his sister, and they are both equally effective when it comes to lovingly terrorizing the dogs. Winston is the one who is climbed on the most.
The place was mitigated mayhem. At one point, Randy put on a Batman mask, got on all fours and Faith climbed on to ride him like a horse. When the dogs saw this, they looked like they wanted to get on as well. Then Owen saw Faith in the saddle and while Randy crouched lower, he climbed on behind his sister. The melee continued for more than an hour, wrestling matches, tickling spells and more dancing, all included.
This, the couple said, is typical of what happens in the Christofferson home.
Not that it happens every day - Randy often is gone for work. But it happens a lot. And just because Randy is out of town, it doesn't mean he takes the kids' need to run and jump with him. Amanda said she picks up the slack in her husband's absence.
Randy and Amanda don't think the childrens' challenges will hamper their bright futures.
"Nothing slows either kid down," Randy said. "They're going to have every opportunity. ... If they wanna try it, they will."
For Faith, Randy doesn't rule out a career driving race cars. He has a derby car, an '80s Cutlass Sierra he races and works on. And his daughter has taken an interest.
"Faith crawled underneath her high chair. Every time I'm out in the garage, they'll come out there and that's where they'll sit," Randy said. "They'll steal my creeper and crawl around."
And for Owen, Randy sees sports in his future.
"Owen likes throwing balls around, so it might be baseball," Randy said. "Even with his one eye, it won't slow him down."
"He's going to be tall," Amanda added.
As the children run and ask their parents to hoist them up or to stop tickling, they refer to them as "daddy" and "mama."
The Christoffersons said they do not want to keep any secrets from their children.
Amanda said the children, who are Native American, are clearly going to know they are different from their parents. They've been working on collecting stories and pictures of their biological parents to share with the children as they grow older and began to ask questions.
"They will know who their biological parents are by picture, and depending upon the health status, the biological family might be involved - because they both have siblings," Amanda said.
The couple says they don't want the children to grow up and hate their biological family, or to hold grudges against them for giving them away.
"'Your parents let us adopt you because it was best for you,'" Randy said he would tell his children.
Amanda believes the parents made a selfless decision - "They put their feelings aside and made best decision for their children."
Not all the biological parents are wholly out of the picture - Owen's father keeps in touch - but Faith's family "wrote her off," Amanda said.
"It kinda breaks my heart. But at the same time, I feel safe that way. I always get a little agitated or scared anytime someone wants to see the kids or talk about the kids that's related to them. Because there's fear that they won't be mine anymore," Amanda said.
Both parents expressed some anxiety about losing their children.
Randy said that because of the Indian Child Welfare Act, there's always the possibility of losing the children. There would certainly be legal barriers, but if the parents wanted, they could probably get some type of temporary custody, he said.
Whatever the future holds, what the Christoffersons know is they will do everything in their power to make sure Faith and Owen will have every advantage and all the proper care.
The couple said they dream of a day a foster group home will operate in Havre, so more children can have opportunities Faith and Owen will have.
"There's no group home in Havre. That would be a dream. That would be amazing. If we could find the money," she said. "That would be phenomenal."