Everyone comes to The Cradle on their own unique path. Some have taken a sharp turn when they discovered biological children were not an option. Others have known for years where the trail would lead. Due to her heart condition, Ariel Steffens always knew that one day she would adopt a child. In early 2012 she married Jonathan Szablewski; a year and a half later the couple came to The Cradle to begin the adoption process
Ariel and Jon had actually started at another agency but decided that The Cradle was a better fit for them. They dove into the home study process, completing their classes and going on the waiting families list in May of 2014.
They were open to a child of any race and hoped to be selected to parent an African American child. “We felt that we were well prepared to be a transracial family,” said Ariel.
Of course, they knew it was up to chance, and that they would love whoever came to them. As luck would have it, after just three months on the waiting list they got a call that a birth mother was interested in their profile. It seemed like no coincidence that the baby was named Lucas, which was already on Ariel and Jon’s short list of boy’s names.
Lucas is African American, and at first, Ariel feared that both current events and Jon’s work might affect the birth mother’s choice. Michael Brown had just been shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Jon, who worked as a suburban Chicago police officer, had spent his entire career in law enforcement. But something surprising happened.
“She wanted her child to grow up with a specific set of values,” Ariel said, “so she actually picked us in part because of Jon’s job,” said Ariel.
Following a month’s stay in The Cradle Nursery, on August 26, 2014 Lucas went home with Ariel and Jon. Two years later, he is thriving. Lucas is active and social and loves going to daycare. He has also impressed friends and family with his manners.
“He is sweet and sensitive. He cries when others cry and he uses ‘please,’ ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ all the time. He likes cleaning up, too,” said Ariel.
Lucas also loves Sesame Street, Minions and his current favorite, Cars, which he can happily watch every day. The family’s latest project, raising backyard chickens, along with their dog and two cats, has turned Lucas into quite the animal lover as well.
There have been some challenges, however. Due to gross motor delays, it took Lucas longer to learn how to walk. But his daycare teachers were always supportive and made him feel included. He became the favorite of a little girl named Audrey, who is now his “girlfriend” at daycare. Lucas started walking this July, and with the help of his leg braces, he has become unstoppable.
“It’s been amazing to watch his confidence grow,” Ariel said.
The family updates Lucas’s birth mom via holiday cards and sends her gifts at Christmas and Lucas’s birthday.
Ariel and Jon know that Lucas will face other challenges. They know that as a Black boy, in some ways his world will be different from theirs. While Jon’s coworkers have readily accepted Lucas, for instance, he still runs into racist comments on the job.
“We have to be actively aware that the world is not color-blind,” Ariel observed. “We want to introduce him to things that we don’t know as much about.” One step they have taken is ensuring that Lucas is exposed to people who look like him. "We have a Black female friend who has been a great resource to help us with this,” said Ariel.
Ultimately, Lucas’s parents want to instill in him a strong and positive sense of self. “We teach him to be confident,” Ariel affirms.
The Cradle’s Our Children initiative is a multi-year series of programs and events aimed at educating families about the realities and injustices their Black children may experience in societal interactions, and providing support to those families. To learn more about the initiative and upcoming programs, click here.