Single with children

A year ago, Linda Koop took in two homeless boys on a moment's notice. Now she wants them to call her mom.

The uncle says he was simply trying to start the boys on their new life as soon as possible. "Our plans were to take them in and adopt them," the uncle says.

For a time, Koop's contact with the boys was sharply limited--Matthew telephoned in the early-morning hours--but as the summer wore on, the aunt and uncle began dropping the brothers off for weekend visits with Koop. She began suspecting that she might soon be getting the boys again--this time for good.

In August 1995, the uncle came over with the boys and told Koop she could keep them. He was dropping his plans to adopt them. A grocery-store manager with two kids of his own, he says he was simply overwhelmed.

"We had to do what was best for the boys," the uncle says. "We talked it over with Matthew. He is old and stable enough to make up his own mind. In getting to know Linda for the past year and a half, we know she loves them and wants to do what is best for them."

The uncle says the financial pressures he faced caring for the children were simply too great. He received no assistance from churches or concerned citizens--as Koop had. His sister occasionally passed along some food stamps, but that made barely a dent in the family's overwhelmed budget.

"I do care for the boys, but we had to do what was best for them. I guess in my heart, I felt Linda could do more," he says.

The uncle has pledged to remain in the boys' lives. He attends Matthew's basketball games and offers financial help when he can. "My mom and dad and whole family is concerned about the kids," he says, "but I guess you can't change the world."

Koop often seems to believe the opposite. In July, she had moved with a female roommate to a two-bedroom apartment in Lake Highlands, near a good school in the Richardson district, in the expectation that the boys would return to live with her.

Their mother once again signed papers giving Linda temporary custody. The mother calls the boys every few weeks.

Koop's attachment to the boys has not won her universal praise. Koop says Roderick's grandmother has been hostile, on one occasion asking, "What is wrong with you, white lady? Can't you have your own children instead of stealing other people's kids?"

The grandmother, Koop says, has steadfastly refused to allow contact--even telephone conversations--between Matthew and Roderick and their two half brothers who live with the grandmother. The grandmother, Koop says, has even arranged to have the phone company block calls from Koop's telephone to her home. The grandmother declined to be interviewed for this story. "I am not going to be involved in that," she told the Observer.

Koop's church, Park Cities Baptist, has provided both emotional support and about $4,000 in child-care services, rent, and food, according to mission director Robert Herrera. Yet Koop and others, he says, have offered "a lot of negative word-of-mouth for not helping her enough."

Koop also complains that some in the church--whose congregation is almost all white--have been uncomfortable having the biracial boys in the pews beside them. After a black friend of Matthew got a cold reception at a church function, she says, Matthew began children's classes at Northwest Bible Church instead.

Herrera calls the incident involving Matthew's friend a misunderstanding and defends the church's efforts, saying, "This is a very gracious church," but he concedes the congregation's commitment has a limit. "We can't keep supporting her like we have been," he says.

Koop acknowledges that her life has changed "drastically" since she took in the boys.

Where once she planned to spend 16-hour days getting ahead at work, she now finds herself working six-hour days and devoting the rest to the boys. She retains the concern about finances and other issues that prompted her, months ago, to conclude the boys might be better off with their uncle, but a powerful faith convinces her that she will be able to surmount the obstacles of sudden parenthood. Says Koop simply: "I believe Christ will solve all our problems."

Last month, Linda Koop filed court papers to formally adopt the boys.
The proposed adoption may prove to be her toughest challenge yet. The court has yet to schedule a hearing, and the boys' birth parents still have time to respond to the proposed termination of their parental rights.

Their mom, now on probation for robbery charges, did not return telephone messages left with her probation officer asking her to talk for this story.

Roderick's father, now serving time in the Hutchins State Jail for violation of a probation sentence related to drug-possession charges, also declined, through a jail administrator, to speak for this story.

Matthew's father could not be reached. Matthew has not talked to him in years, and Koop's lawyer in the adoption proceedings--Daryl Gordon, a biracial attorney handling the matter on a discounted basis--has been unable to locate him.

If anyone objects, Gordon and Koop say, the adoption could become a complex matter.

But for the past six months, Linda Koop and her sudden sons have fallen into a happy family pattern.

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