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El Medio: A Teenager Talks To His Mom About Life With Adopted Siblings

Jackson Sawyer
Basim Blunt
Jackson Sawyer

My name is Jackson Sawyer. I'm 17, and I'm a senior at Centerville High School. Anyone who is a middle child knows that being the middle child is the worst. I'm never taken seriously when I want to be, and I never get the sympathy I want when I need it. I have five siblings, and I live with my parents.

Having five siblings is normal, but my family is even less normal than that as my three youngest siblings are all adopted.

I hardly get any attention from my parents. I mean, it's hard to pay attention to me with all the trouble that my other siblings get into. Both the oldest of the adopted siblings and my younger sister have been in and out of children's psych wards.

The oldest is my brother. We fostered him when he was just a baby. He was born addicted to opioids. He has numerous conditions, including ADHD and reactive attachment disorder. These prevent him from actually being able to have a connection with us. It seems that he's comfortable telling us that he hates us and that he wants to kill us. It can be really scary thinking about my younger brother.

The middle of the younger siblings is my youngest brother. His mother was also addicted to drugs that cost her her life. He's a very gentle soul at times, he just has a lot of anxiety.

The last of the three adopted siblings is my younger sister. She's five years old. She has cerebral palsy, and because of that, she wears braces on her legs to help her walk. She constantly throws tantrums over the most minute things.

We decided to adopt kids when we realized that our family was really great. We wanted to give a piece of our family that a lot of other kids couldn't have.

I asked my mom, Molly Sawyer, about how our family decided that adopting would be better than just fostering.

"We had a strong belief that if we were able to provide a safe, loving, stable home, that's what was best," she said.

"How has adopting three kids affected you?" I asked. 

"It certainly has opened me up to a lot of experiences I had never had in my typical suburban family life."

I asked her if she thought that in our household that some kids will just naturally need more attention than others.

"Everyone needs quality time where you're present with them," my mom said. "The amount of attention someone needs to help them get dressed in the morning is different than the kind of time that you need as a 17 year old thinking about going to college and planning your future. Do you think people looking in could ever realize the work and understanding that it is to be the sibling of siblings that have needs?"

"The only way you can really understand any of the kids in our family, you'd have to be them," I told my mom.

My youngest sister came to us at a couple of months old. She has five older siblings with disabilities. They all live in different homes. We fought for her to have permanency and not to be moved from place to place.

My mom asked me what lessons I've learned about being a sibling.

"I've learned that pretty much all babies are just great," I said. "So we're like, 'Aw, look at this perfect little angel baby, it's going gonna be a perfect little kid.' Now, we've learned that not all of the younger siblings are perfect."

"Well, perfect may be a myth," my mom replied. "They've experienced loss and trauma that impact them maybe a lot more than we would have ever realized."

"Because you can't really tell that from a baby," I said.

"As they've gotten older, we've learned what that looks like. What lessons will you take with you?"

"That I obviously don't always get everything I want whenever I want it," I said. "Now, if I see something that I want most of the time, it's almost immediately met with, like, I'll never have that."

As expected, the house is almost always chaos. Every kid does their own things. My brother and I do marching band, my sister's off in college. The younger two are always in school, and the oldest of the adopted siblings is always doing sports.

I hope that the future of our family is a good one because currently, we're in a really rough patch. 

Jackson Sawyer is a student at Centerville High School. Special Thanks to Tricia Rapoch, teacher for the Communication Arts Program at Centerville High School. Learn more at the school's website:  http://www.centerville.k12.oh.us/CHS.  Dayton Youth Radio is supported by the Virginia W. Kettering Foundation, the Ohio Arts Council and the Vectren Foundation.

This story was created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.

Basim has worked in the media for over twenty years, as an A&R rep with Capitol Records and as a morning drive show producer. He is a filmmaker, media arts adjunct, and also a digital editing teacher in the Dayton Metro area. In 2012 he joined WYSO as a Community Voices Producer, and his work has earned him a “New Voices” Scholar award by (AIR) Association of Independents in Radio. Basim has produced the award-winning documentary Boogie Nights: A History of Funk Music in Dayton. He also served as Project Manager for ReInvention Stories, a multimedia docu-series produced by Oscar-winning filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert. In 2020, Blunt received a PMJA (Public Media Journalists Association) award for his WYSO series Dayton Youth Radio, for which he is the founding producer and instructor. Basim spins an eclectic mix of funk, soul, and classic R&B every Thursday night from 8 p.m to 10 p.m., as host of the 91.3 FM music show Behind the Groove.