Everyone has a story – a story of who they are, where they came from, and where they are heading.
However, some people’s stories are easier to tell than others.
For adopted children, their stories may be fragmented, either by a lack of information or a lack of understanding. Thus, in modern adoptions, their parents are tasked with helping them have as clear of a story as possible.
Like countless others across the country, Tracey and Eric, parents of two adopted boys, found their solution of explaining their family’s adoption story through, of all places, a children’s book named “Wish” by Matthew Cordell.
A One-of-a-Kind Relationship
You won’t find a more unique adoption story than Tracey and Eric’s adoption of their sons Owen and Steven.
The prospective adoptive parents first became interested in adopting a child internationally from Ethiopia, but after four years of waiting for an opportunity, it became clear they’d have better luck adopting domestically.
A national adoption agency, American Adoptions, immediately jumped out to the hopeful parents because of the agency’s reputation for low wait times. Tracey and Eric had no problem finding adoption opportunities with prospective birth mothers, but it took them five different matches before their adoption goals were realized.
However, what an opportunity it ultimately became.
Not only did the birth family give them a healthy son named Owen, and not only do the two families share a beautiful open adoption to this day, but the birth family even presented Tracey and Eric with a question so loving and so selfless, it left the couple speechless.
“How would you feel about a biological sibling for Owen?” the birth family asked Tracey and Eric one night in their Minnesota home.
“What they were saying was ‘How about we get pregnant and help complete your family,’” Tracey said. “Of course, that was like a dream come true for our family, one we never could have imagined. And so that’s how our second journey began.”
Steven would soon enter the lives of Tracey, Eric and Owen, and became the final piece of their family’s unique story (at least, for now).
A One-of-a-Kind Book
During this same time period in a Chicago suburb, Matthew Cordell was finding success as an author and illustrator of light-hearted, humorous children’s books.
Unfortunately, he and his wife Julie were not finding similar success with becoming pregnant.
After a few years of heartbreak, however, the two authors finally welcomed a girl and later a boy into their lives.
Up to that point in his career, Cordell had focused on making both children and adults laugh through his stories and illustrations, but he and his wife’s unpredictable journey of becoming parents “seemed like a story that needed to be told in a picture book,” he said.
“I started thinking about my story, my wife’s story, my daughter’s story, my son’s story, and it was a moment of triumph, but a lot of pain was woven into it,” Cordell said. “I also thought about how we felt so alone, and how publishing can connect people and give someone a voice to share something if they don’t quite know how to talk about it – especially one day with their child.”
And thus, the concept for Wish was born.
Wish tells the story of an elephant couple wishing, hoping, and planning for a child to enter their lives, and delicately hints at their struggles to become parents. Visually, the book is told through Cordell’s vibrant watercolors, encapsulated by the metaphor of an unborn child on a boat lost at sea, and his or her soon-to-be parents sending and receiving love across the ocean represented by rainbow confetti.
The book concludes with the elephant couple on the beach, when suddenly it begins to storm, the waves begin to rise, and a boat with their child washes onto shore.
The wisdom of Wish, and one of the many reasons a variety of families are embracing Cordell’s book, is in its simplicity. It is this simplicity, yet poignancy, that makes it applicable to families grown through adoption, surrogacy, infertility treatments, and even for families who didn’t struggle at all. The elephant parents are vague enough that they could even represent a same-sex couple’s journey toward parenthood.
“I’m glad to hear that adopting moms and dads, and many other types of families, have found it and have connected it to their story so easily, because that was always important to me from the beginning,” Cordell said.
Wish Finds a Family
Tracey opened up their mailbox, and a close friend had mailed them an envelope. Inside it was a hardback copy of Wish.
Tracey and Eric began reading Wish to their oldest son Owen and quickly realized how applicable it was to their story, and any family’s story. As Tracey reads it to her son, she can see the “wheels turning in his mind.”
“Owen started asking questions about his birth story during that book,” Tracey said. “It just resonated with him, and it resonated with me as an adoptive mother.”
Most adoption professionals agree it is better to discuss a child’s adoption story at a very young age to begin making it a normal part of his or her life. There are plenty of resources, including books, movies and television shows, to help facilitate this conversation, but these pieces of media are often too rigid and don’t always fit each child’s story.
Wish, however, did just the opposite for Tracey, as she could mold it to precisely fit the unique ways in which their family was created.
“I would add different things to the book because the words are so simplistic,” Tracey said. “Wish is so broad, and so flexible, that families could read it from day one, continue reading it, and continue to evolve the conversations about their family and their children’s birth families in such a positive way.”
Read any of Wish’s dozens of 5-star Amazon reviews, and it’s clear that Tracey and Eric are just one of many families who are finding enormous rewards in just 184 words of text.
And finally, with the success of his first venture into more serious subject matters, Cordell has decided to continue exploring the fun, challenging, and beautiful journey of parenthood, as he is currently working on a companion book for Wish.