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When Cory was 5 years old, he was removed from his home by the state and placed into foster care. For the next 11 years, he bounced between homes, ultimately landing in a facility at age 15.

By then, the odds were beginning to dwindle that he would be adopted, as older children in the foster care system typically have a harder time finding their "forever family." Unfortunately, this part of Cory's story isn't all that rare.


Cory at almost 16, the first time he met the Crouch family. All photos courtesy of Tanja Crouch.

When it comes to U.S. foster care, many of the statistics are troubling.

Over 400,000 children were in foster care in 2013. And in the same year, 23,000 children “aged out" of the system.

That means they hit an age, usually 18, where they're simply “too old" to remain in foster care. They are turned out into the world on their own with no safety net — no family to come home to when life throws up an inevitable roadblock, nobody to call when their bank account balance dips below zero.

Teens who age out of the system face a more difficult road in life than average folks who have families. They are less likely to graduate from high school or get a GED, and they are far less likely to graduate from college. Additionally, they are more likely to become pregnant, homeless, or end up in jail.

Cory, however, didn't age out.

Cory was almost 16 when he met the people who would become his parents.

When I talked to Tanja and Kevin Crouch, they had recently celebrated their 36th anniversary. Tanja shared with me the memories of their life pre-Cory. Tanja, a recording studio manager, and Kevin, a college professor in the fashion department who has worked as a costumer designer for Disney, Vogue, and other companies, had assumed they would have biological children together. When they discovered they wouldn't be able to, they realized that parenting would have to look a little different than they envisioned.

But Tanja and her siblings were adopted, so she was no stranger to family ties in the absence of biology. The Crouches were open to adoption.

After learning about the need for foster and adoptive families for children in the U.S., Tanja and Kevin decided it was right for them. They attended months of training sessions and went through certification, and then the Crouches were ready to open their home.

Kevin, Tanja, and Cory Crouch.

In 2007, they opened it to Cory. “The first time we met Cory, I knew he was our son. I just felt it. … I felt a connection to him," Tanja told me. And the feeling was mutual. Although his caseworker presented him with the files of three families to review, after he met the Crouches, Cory said he didn't care to meet the others. He also felt the connection.

Following a few more meetings and a trial weekend, the three agreed that Cory should move in with Tanja and Kevin, one week before his 16th birthday and two short years before he would have aged out of the system.

That day, the Crouches became a family of three.

Kevin and Cory rappelling.

But for kids who have lived a large part of their childhoods in foster care, their troubles don't simply stop on a dime just because they've found a permanent home. Rough roads were still ahead.

Tanja and Kevin were committed to Cory from the beginning, like most parents.

And like all parents, they made some mistakes. “We probably spoiled Cory, giving him too much, too soon," Tanja said. “But we had waited so long for a child that we just wanted him to have every opportunity."

Cory later told them about his feelings, common among many foster children who find themselves in loving families after years of having the opposite. It was difficult for Cory “to suddenly have a family and people who cared if he did his homework and showed up for school and was where he was supposed to be," Tanja said.

“He never had anyone care or check up before. He also never had a cellphone or a computer or other things. The first week we had him, we took him shopping for new clothes and let him pick out his bedding and other things for his room. It became a little overwhelming to have choices and new things. This he shared with us more recently. He did not appreciate and take care of those things, probably because he was used to having to leave everything behind and just move with his clothes and a few other personal items."

The Crouches did what parents do when their kids have significant unmet needs: They find a way to meet them.

“Cory was nearly two years behind in school because no one had ever cared if he was in school and if he was passing classes," Tanja said. It was a lot for him to catch up on.

Additionally, they learned that Cory was heavily medicated for misdiagnosed ADHD. “There was a lot of counseling, tutors, and doctors' visits — things we never imagined."

At the same time, the couple also had to adjust to a big life change.

“Getting used to a third person who was an active teen ... lots of his friends coming and going — it was a big adjustment for us," Tanja explained. “We had been married for more than 20 years with no children, just the two of us. ... We were not prepared for all the adjustments. However, the sacrifices were worth it, to finally have a son."

Unfortunately, the impact of nearly 11 years in the foster care system, coupled with his other challenges, led Cory to make some poor decisions.

Cory ran into legal trouble when he was caught with pot, and his situation was further complicated when he failed to show for court dates. As a result, he's now serving time in prison.

His situation, it should be noted, is one that thousands of other teens — not just adopted teens — find themselves in every day, regardless of their backgrounds. Poor decision-making is often a rite of passage to adulthood. But unlike individuals who age out of the foster care system, Cory had a family before he turned 18 — and he has a family waiting for him when he's released. Tanja calls and writes to Cory weekly, sharing Scripture lessons and providing words of hope.

Cory has told Tanja many times that her letters are a source of encouragement. “I always start my letters by mentioning something we talked about on the phone and how proud I am of him. I end by telling him I love him," Tanja said.

She believes that has further solidified their relationship. “I know he never heard things like that when he grew up. My constantly reminding him he is my son and I am proud of the changes he is trying to make helps him to further believe in himself."

The Crouches are optimistic that Cory will be released this fall — and when he is, they'll be there for him. “I believe Cory is the son we were supposed to have. I believe that God found a way to finally help us to find one another," Tanja said.

Despite the challenges, Tanja and Kevin aren't going anywhere.

“This is not the plan I had for being a parent and certainly not the plan I had for Cory. But, I love him and I want this to be a blip on the radar." Her hope for him sounds like that of any parent who wants the best for their child. Their love is a great reminder that parenting comes in all shapes and sizes and families are created in many ways.

A mother's love knows no bounds.

Tanja shared a memory with me that sums up their journey so well:

“One time when Cory was kicked out of school for a week, he ran away. I went looking for him and finally found him with a group of 'troubled teen' friends. I told him to get in the car because we were going home. He was my son and I would always come and find him no matter what he did and where he went.

That is why, although he is sitting in prison, I have not given up on him. He is my son and I will always go and find him and bring him home because I love him. He is our son forever."

That is what a "forever family" looks like.

Former officials from the George W. Bush administration and campaign launched a super PAC in support of presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, declaring they "knew it was time to take a stand." They claim that they seek to unite and mobilize a community that is historically Republican voters. The group, consisting of at least 200 former officials, aides and Cabinet secretaries, formed "43 Alumni for Biden" to block President Donald Trump from winning a second term. They claim on their website that there have been "far too many days filled with chaos emanating from the highest levels of government" and that "political differences may remain among us, but we look forward to a time when civil, honest and robust policy discussions are the order of the day."

When I read about "43 Alumni for Biden," it gave me a great sense of hope. Even though I didn't vote for Biden and I'm not a huge fan, I am liberal and think it's important to accept anyone willing to admit that they are disappointed in their political party. It takes someone with real strength to admit the damage that has been done to our nation by Trump's presidency. It takes even more strength to say they voted for Trump, they were wrong and now they want to fix it.

My optimism has less to do with what side they are on and much more to do with the act of reaching across the isle. Almost all politicians have their heels dug on issues that align with their respective political party. The only thing worse than someone trying to prove that they are always right is someone putting all their energy into proving that their counterpart is consistently wrong.

What is even more counterproductive is the person who waggles the "I told you so" finger in the face of someone who has the audacity to change their mind and actually agree with them. Why anyone would shame someone for having the courage to admit they were wrong is a concept that befuddles me to this day. Yet it happens more often than not. The fear of being ridiculed plays a huge role in our inability to be vulnerable. We have an opportunity to come together as a country. As long as we all grow the hell up.

When a politician changes their stance on an issue whether it is because of new information or just a change of heart—especially after reflecting on things and keeping an open mind, they are labeled as a flip flopper. Somehow it seems like they have more credibility if they can say that they believed something all along because it makes them look smart. Ask yourself, who do you trust more: someone who always says they are right or someone who can utter the words "That's a really good point?" We need to take it upon ourselves to be the bigger person.

Remember all that progress you made in your relationship when you screamed at your partner with guns a blazing telling them how wrong they were. Remember when they responded by telling you that you had excellent points and they would try and do better from now on. Oh, wait. You probably can't because that never happens. But I could be wrong (see what I did there).

Now imagine a time when you might have made a mistake, and your partner speaks to you with tenderness and understanding with the inevitable dash of disappointment because, lets face it, you deserve it. I think we would all opt for the undesirable cherry as opposed to a full on sundae of shame.

We are imperfect emotional beings and protect our psyche like a dog learning the boundaries of a newly installed invisible electric fence. Once our pride gets zapped, we are less likely to venture out as far, and in fact, will most likely recoil deep within the boundaries of our comfort zone.

The people involved with 43 Alumni for Biden have been able to reassess the state of the Republican party to which they held such loyalty. Just because they are supporting a Democrat in Joe Biden, doesn't mean they need to turn their back on their traditional Republican views. This is about more than just taking a step back and putting aside any blind loyalty one might have to their respective political party. It is unclear what percentage of the organization voted for Donald Trump in 2016. I am going to guess not very many punched a chad for Hillary Clinton.

When you vote for someone, you have put your trust in them. That leads to defending any perceived missteps they may have had because you advocated and believed in them. The more controversy there is, the more you feel the need to justify your vote and defend them even more. Then you find yourself defending the fact that you are defending them and believe the negative news coverage is a lie or a smear campaign.

I did it with both Bill and Hillary Clinton in the midst of everything that was being said about them. Then I stopped and thought about what my thought process would be if it was George W. Bush that was being accused of the exact same things. It was the moment I realized I wasn't being honest with myself. The diagnosis? We protect our ego on subconscious and primal level and fear the vulnerability that comes with admitting that we were misguided. Once we are able to face that, we can really get to the core of why we don't budge.

We are going to need all the communication skills we can muster up because if you think the months were bizarre leading up to the 2016 election, I am pretty sure Kanye West has something special planned for us. Buckle your seatbelt and open your minds because just when you thought 2020 couldn't possibly have any surprises, things are about to get even weirder.