A uterine cancer diagnosis for Kari Cummings at age 25 meant that she and her husband, Patrick, had to rethink how they would someday build their family. Adoption was the natural choice.
First came Caleb in 2007 through domestic infant adoption. The Cummings couple were selected by his birth parents, who maintain a relationship with the sixth-grader in Robbinsdale schools, where the Cummingses themselves, both now 42, met in fifth grade.
Then last year they welcomed 16-year-old Caleb McMurray to the family. It took years of waiting and searching for a second child until they finally considered looking into adopting a foster child.
"We decided to not just be a revolving door for foster kids, but to just find the right one and move them in permanently," Kari said.
There may be room for two Calebs under one roof, but the couple never thought they would adopt a teen. Most people don't; only 15% of foster teens were adopted in Minnesota last year, said Lisa Bayley, an assistant commissioner for children and family services in the state Department of Human Services. That means that many children age out of the system without finding a family or still waiting for one.
Caleb McMurray was one of 1,268 foster children across the state to find a family last year, the highest number ever, Bayley said. There were nearly 1,000 such adoptions in 2017, and foster adoptions this year are keeping pace, with more than 960 so far. Most occur in the metro area; Hennepin County typically has the most foster children and adoptions, followed by Ramsey County.
A majority of foster kids are reunited with their parents or placed with a relative. But that's not always the case.
"The reality is that adoptive families are really what kids need to grow into a stable environment, to have healthy lives," Bayley said. "There are a lot of kids out there that are just waiting. This is a need right now."
Currently, 900 kids are under state guardianship waiting for adoption. Another 770 are in preadoptive homes waiting to finalize adoption.
At the Cummings home in Crystal, 12-year-old Caleb goes by C.J. now that he has a new big brother with the same name. At school, he's still Caleb.
"It's hard to answer to C.J. and hard not to answer to Caleb," he said.
But everyone agreed that C.J. (short for Caleb John) sounds better than C.D. (big brother Caleb Daniel), who said, "I didn't want to be referred to as a compact disc."
There are a lot of adjustments, and the family has learned to be flexible. This summer they went on their first family vacation, a road trip to Seattle.
"We managed to all get along in the car for that long," Patrick Cummings said with a laugh.
The Cummings family soon will take off for Hawaii. It will be the older Caleb's first time flying, adding to his list of other firsts: a first job and a first dog (Sadie, also adopted). Caleb and Sadie have a special bond, just like what C.J. has with his adopted cat, Hunter.
"Even though we built our family entirely through adoption, in many ways it's not any different from any other family," Patrick Cummings said.
Older Caleb's life has changed a lot in the 15 months since he joined the Cummings family, but it has also gained much-needed normalcy — returning to the same school and staying in the same house after moving among three different homes in recent years.
"I was not in a great foster home at all. So it was better than I think anything else [that] could have happened," he said. "It definitely did change my life."