A Neff family snapshot in 1976 shows two dark haired, dark eyed parents with three little people: two are brunettes also with dark crinkly eyes full of mischief exuding energy, and another with white hair, fair complexion, blue eyes, and a quiet, ‘at peace with the world’ demeanor. If you have read John’s adoption story, you know he was quite the opposite of Valerie. Charles was born to us two years after John’s arrival. It did not take long to notice that he was a full speed ahead, athletic youngster whose will was as strong as his body.
Bob and I were perplexed. John was such a different child from the other two. We were concerned that he would feel different especially being our only adopted child. What should we do? We would often look back on our naivete and admit that we made a major decision based on a guess, an assumption that turned out to be wrong, though the outcome was a blessing beyond measure.
We decided the solution was to adopt another child. Our assumption was that another adopted child would likely be wired up like John. John would not be alone in his adoption status, nor temperament since this new sibling would be more like him. Our happy family would be complete.
Rob arrived in red car. Things had changed and he is buckled into a car seat rather than lying in a bassinet. The ECFA agent carried him through the same front door where 3 faces greeted John four years before. Now four-year-old John was one of the five faces to peer at Robert Ryan Neff, age 31/2 weeks.
Rob and John could have been twins from outward appearances, Rob’s hair was as white as John’s and his eyes as blue. He was fair skinned and had large inquisitive eyes. Bob and I smiled at each other. Such an intelligent pair, we were. All was right with the world.
Life changed drastically. We no longer had time to contemplate family dynamics. Rob’s arrival was full of surprises. He cried incessantly and could not keep formula down. He slept little, needed to be held most of the time, though he cried while being held. He seemed to be hungry and in fact, was because he was not digesting milk.
We discovered that he was in an incubator for a week after birth and then sent to a ‘boarding house’ with instruction that he be fed soy formula. He was mistakenly fed Similac. His allergic reaction to milk explained his loss of weight and constant hunger. We could address this problem and promptly did.
We learned we had to intentionally find things to laugh about to retain our sanity. One such event was the result of soy formula being and extreme staining liquid. Rob drank it vigorously but still often ‘upchucked’ on any people or things nearby. Bob lifted him one morning giving him a good bye cuddle and headed for his office in the loop. Riding the elevator to his office at 820 N. LaSalle, a colleague tipped him that he might want to violate the Moody management dress code that day and shed his suit jacket. This was the 3 piece suit era where grey pin stripes, the vest and a white shirt were expected. Rob had managed to launch a real hurl (excuse my description–its accurate!) and decorate grey pin stripes with a tan-turning yellow color- that covered one entire shoulder.
More surprises followed. Rob needed corrective minor surgery. Public aid had been billed as if the surgery had been done, though it had not. No problem, we could get this done. Riding in the car as a family became a nightmare. Rob cried incessantly there too. We were later to learn this is common given his temperament and other factors. We faced each challenge as best we could and moved forward.
By the age of nine months, I watched the pediatrician write a beautiful word on Rob’s medical sheet. ‘NORMAL’ He could now begin to eat all foods. His body was healthy and he was becoming a happy child. However, there was one more surprise we had not anticipated. His personality, athleticism, high gear and affinity for loud noises and action was just like Valerie and Charles. It appeared Bob and I had not adopted a soul brother for John after all.
But Rob was in the right family. Of the many “Ah Ha” moments when God showed me the wisdom of His placement, one was watching Bob and Rob mow the lawn together. Bob was an incredibly energetic, productive man who took care of every aspect of our home care in addition to his large career and calling. Our 1+ acre yard required a combination of riding mower and push mower for its terrain. Fall leaf clean up was large as well. Few dads could have set a pace for Rob, but Bob could. It was a delight to seem them team on any project. Bob’s ‘high gear’ was quiet; Rob’s was loud, but watching them, it was evident that God made another good match.