Jennifer Grady has always channeled her maternal nature by rescuing animals to live out their days carefree and pampered.
So it is no surprise that among the menagerie of horses, goats, bunnies and chickens at her serene north Rockdale farm, you will find a little boy who himself needed rescuing.
Four years ago, Jennifer, a medical technologist, and her husband Joe, who is in the remodeling business, had just begun to contemplate adoption.
A church friend told them the story of 5-year-old Jason, living in Boston with his grandmother, 84, who is a wheelchair-bound diabetic.
Jason’s father was in prison and his mother had suffered severe head injuries in a car accident.
The grandmother had taken in the 5-year-old boy to keep him from going into foster care like his siblings.
The grandmother asked the Gradys to write a letter about themselves and include pictures, and so began a series of phone calls that ultimately led to a visit by Jason and his grandmother to Rockdale in 2009.
Up until that point, Jason had rarely left the Boston apartment (read his own account of the years spent with his grandmother on the Opinion column, "Everything in life is possible," or in the May 11 edition) and had virtually no schedule and no social skills, but the Gradys had built a strong connection with him just by chatting on the telephone. They could tell this child was smart and just needed a chance to be a kid.
What Jason didn’t know was the Gradys had been planning for his visit to Georgia by setting up a room filled with all the things a 5-year-old boy could dream of.
And for a child whose experience with animals amounted to watching pigeons from the window in his grandmother’s Boston apartment and avoiding a mean dog that lived in the neighborhood, arriving at the Gradys’ farm was sensory overload.
When his grandmother asked if he would like to stay in Conyers and live with the Gradys or come back to Boston with her, the precocious 5-year-old said he “did what a man has to do” and decided to live out his new life with his new mom and dad.
“We were so fortunate to get such a great kid,” said Jennifer of the decision to adopt, which was sealed when Jason’s grandmother signed over parental rights and the year-long adoption process began. “We are so happy to have him in our family and be able to provide a good life for him. We wanted to give a child in need a home.”
At the time, Jennifer, 34, and Joe, 40, put their parental instincts into overdrive to help Jason adapt to family life. He had never been to school nor spent much time around other children, but he was quick-witted and eager to learn.
The Gradys said the biggest struggle was overcoming Jason’s fear of abandonment, which was most obvious when they would take him to school and he would ask them to promise they were coming back to get him.
Despite being in a new place with new people, Jason took learning very seriously and astonished his new parents with his ability to catch up with other children his age.
“It was hard at first…kids don’t come with an instruction book,” Jennifer said. “I thought, ‘What am I supposed to do with him?’ But as Jason has matured, it has gotten so much easier. He has adapted to his new environment, his home and family. He is very smart.”
Jason, now 9 years old and a third grader at J.H. House Elementary, is thriving in his new life.
Though Jennifer and Joe, who have just celebrated their 13th anniversary, never tried to have children of their own, they recommend adoption because the reward is well worth the tedious and expensive process.
“It is definitely worth all of the frustration and waiting,” they said. Within days of stepping into his new life, Jason was calling the Gradys mommy and daddy.