Keri and Mary Califano always knew that they wanted a family. Just before they got married, they started trying to have a baby naturally but quickly came to the conclusion that adoption would be the best route for them. They now have three children: Justin, Danyella, and Mona.
Of their three children, two of them joined their family as newborns.
“We went through our MAPP training,” Mary said, “the day after we completed it, we got a call about an infant in the hospital that had just been born.”
“We jumped in the car after work that night and went down to the hospital. We stayed there for about six hours – unable to tear ourselves away – and then at midnight, we had to run to the 24-hour Walmart to buy supplies! The next morning, Danyella came to our home.”
Keri explained that Mona was born right before she and Mary got married, only a little over a year after Danyella was born.
“When we came back from our wedding weekend, our social worker called us and told us that there was a baby in need of a permanent home.” It was Mona, who joined their family at one month old.
“We knew that Mona had a brother, Justin, who was living with a foster family,” Keri said. “He knew his mom had been pregnant and had requested to see his new sibling, so we started doing some sibling visits with him. After we met him a few times, we were told that the family he was living with was retiring as foster parents after 30 years. When we found that out, we thought ‘Shouldn’t he be with us and his sister?’” Sure enough, he found his forever home with the Califano family.
While MARE wasn’t involved in Keri and Mary’s adoption journey at first, it has since become a large part of their professional and personal lives as they continue to be involved in the adoption community.
Keri, a real estate agent, was working on adding a charitable component to her work back in 2018. As part of that mission, she launched Dany’s Dream Club, which was a way for her real estate group to give back a portion of their sales to organizations that they support. MARE was one of those organizations, which prompted her to get more involved.
Since then, Keri has begun speaking at MAPP trainings with Mary, joined MARE’s board of directors, and became a mentor for new adoptive families.
“I think the mentor program is awesome for the families that need it,” Keri explained. “It can just be a short-term relationship or some people may need a little bit more support overall for a longer period of time. We’re happy to give whatever time we can to families to help them learn the ropes a little bit. We’re a multi-racial household, we’re a gay couple, and we’ve experienced both open and closed adoptions, so we’ve been through a lot of the things that could come up for new families.”
Keri also displays MARE’s Heart Galleries at her open houses.
When asked what some of the highlights of their adoption journey have been, Mary explained that seeing their children succeed has been particularly rewarding.
“Danyella is an amazing artist, and she’s very athletic,” she said. “Mona is extremely talented musically, and so seeing all of those achievements is great.”
“Seeing Justin’s successes has been especially great, too. He has had a lot of hurdles to overcome and has made a ton of growth in terms of peer relations, school work, and managing his really big emotions.”
As with all children, not everything is peaches and cream, as Mary and Keri explained.
“It’s hard! Our daughters came to us as cute little newborn bundles, so their adoption trauma hasn’t really hit them yet since they grew up with us,” Keri said. “Our son, on the other hand, came to us with experiences of trauma and neglect, and so it’s really hard to navigate all of that.”
“Read books on trauma, PTSD, and anxiety, so that you understand how to help your child as best you can,” Keri said. “We kind of learned on the fly, so I think it’s important to immerse yourself in literature about trauma and trauma-informed therapies.”
Being a multiracial family, Keri and Mary also explained the importance of learning about and understanding what transracial adoption means for families and kids.
“It’s so important to help them connect with their culture, race, where they came from, and who they are,” they explained.
While the adoption journey for Mary and Keri was challenging at times, they recommend adoption to families who are willing to open themselves up to a kind of parenting we don’t normally see on TV and in movies.
“Raising kids is everything you’d expect it to be and then everything you’d never imagine in your wildest dreams!”