Today is our anniversary—mine and my daughter’s. She came to live with me two years ago, at age five. Last year the day was still a bittersweet memory for her—she was happy to be here, but still trying to understand the process and work through all of the feelings she was experiencing. This year, she told me it feels like I have always been her mom, and we should have a big celebration. I agree with her completely. Quite honestly, she is a miracle I celebrate in my heart every day, ever since the first time I saw her in a dark and fuzzy photo shared with me online.
When you adopt from foster care, you end up with many special dates that stand out in your memory. There is the day I enrolled in the licensing class; the day I received my long-awaited foster license; the day of my interview with the social workers, so they could decide whether I was the person the child in question needed; and the day I found out they thought I might be the one.
There is the day we first met—after school, in a room with her foster family and social worker, her wondering about this lady they were bringing to meet her. Shy but curious, watching me when she thought I would not notice as I tried to start learning all the details of her life so far from her foster parent.
The day of our first visit together, just the two of us, is commemorated in a photo that now hangs in our home [photo featured above]. In it, she watches a cow with her back turned to me…she found it easier to talk and ask questions of this stranger she might have to live with someday soon when eye contact was not required. To me, it reminds me how far we have come, and every time I see it I still experience the awe and wonder I felt just being with her. Our first holiday together, Thanksgiving, which included her first extended visit with me, and meeting her new cousins. Having other kids around helped her warm up to her new surroundings, and the snow that fell didn’t hurt, either!
And, finally, the day she came home. I remember all the thoughts running through my mind as I drove the two hours to pick her up. I remember arriving at her daycare and finding her things packed in an old cardboard box and a garbage bag, so typical of how foster children move. And I remember walking into the room and the tears in her eyes when she saw I was there, realizing it was time to leave behind all she remembered so far. I watched her say goodbye to her friends and the staff she was fond of, offering hugs even though she did not like to be touched. I remember the fear in her eyes, but a glimmer of hope I thought I saw behind them, and how hard it was to fight back tears of my own as I tried to stay upbeat and positive for her. And I remember tucking my daughter in for the first time back at our home that night, in her bedroom that we had decorated together. How many times had I walked into that room over the preceding months, wondering first whose room it would become, and, for the last three months as we got to know each other through Saturday visits, what it would be like when she was finally here?
On that first night, I remember sitting on the side of my daughter’s bed, watching her sleep, unable to fight back the tears any longer. On that night, I cried…tears of joy that she was finally home, tears of gratitude for the unbelievable gift of this amazing little girl, and tears of grief for the pain she was feeling and the fact that it is the children who have the most difficult role in this process. I mourned for all she had to endure while with her birth family and the lost years of her childhood—years she should have spent playing and exploring, but instead spent recovering from injuries she should not have survived.
Since that first night, so much has changed. No longer is there resentment that I took her from all she knew. Hugs are now requested and enjoyed throughout the day. Rages that stemmed from feelings she could not begin to comprehend, much less express in words at her young age, are now gone. We officially became a forever family six months after she came home, but in my heart, forever began the first time I saw that picture.
As we sit here, about to blow out the candle in the shape of the number two atop her favorite cake, I feel grateful and humbled that I was the one fortunate enough to have been trusted with the precious gift of this inspiring little girl, with her huge spirit, warm energy, amazing sense of humor, and compassion for others. Now and forever, on this day and all others, I celebrate the miracle that is my daughter.