To my daughter:
I know you never planned on us.
Two years ago, before your life got turned upside down and you had to leave everything you’d ever known, you would have never guessed that today you would be standing in a courtroom, taking someone else’s last name. I never would have guessed it, either.
When you came to live with us, you were 6, and I could tell you were nervous because the only one you would make direct eye contact with was our puppy, Oreo. We were nervous, too. As foster parents, you can never anticipate what a new case is going to bring, so you learn quickly that it’s best to have no expectations.
Dad and I weren’t looking to adopt either, not at first. We already had three children who kept our hearts and schedules full. But when we heard you were getting ready to go to your fourth foster home in two months, through absolutely no fault of your own, we knew at the very least we could offer you some stability while the system tried to get it right.
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The other kids went into great detail setting up your room, from meticulously writing your name on the chalkboard welcome sign to carefully picking out a few books and toys they hoped you wouldn’t already have. When you opened up your nearly empty emoji suitcase, we realized an overlap of toys wouldn’t be an issue.
As we started to settle into a routine, we saw glimpses of the things we would eventually fall in love with about you. Like the way you want both waffles and pancakes for breakfast every morning because "it’s my thing." And the way you never turn down an opportunity to race — and usually beat — one of your siblings. And the way that, once you’re comfortable, you walk into every room like you own it. Like you deserve the world. Which you do.
You’re also the only one who will listen to sad songs with me in the car, both of us occasionally relishing the opportunity to get all "in our feelings." Remember the day we discovered Ed Sheeran’s "Supermarket Flowers" and you sang these lyrics — "Oh, I’m in pieces, it’s tearing me up, but I know, a heart that’s broke is a heart that’s been loved" — as tears streamed down your cheeks? You couldn’t see it because I was driving, but tears were streaming down my cheeks, too.
A few months into the case, at the first court hearing, you were able to reunite with your aunt, a woman who knew you, the real you, before you were cast into this grown-up and scary system. That day, you said, was "the greatest day of my whole life."
While your aunt couldn’t take custody of you, she ensured that your past became part of the present and served as a lifeline to us both. She FaceTimed you every Sunday, sent presents for every holiday, and drove three hours so she could be there for each 15-minute court hearing. She provided an essential bridge to your biological family and embraced us, your new family, too.
Over time, the little girl who appeared on our doorstep simply became our daughter. When we learned that we were going to be able to adopt you and you confirmed that’s what you wanted, we were relieved. We could no longer imagine our lives without you.
After our February adoption date was set, I was looking through paperwork and discovered that I had the same middle name as your biological mom, whom you loved dearly but had not been able to see since you came into foster care. Your response was immediate: When you were adopted, you would take on this middle name, too, as a tribute "to both my moms."
Today, as you smacked the gavel on the judge’s desk and officially became our daughter, we were surrounded by people who helped us get here. CPS caseworkers, lawyers and foster agency workers who fought to ensure that you never again had to pack up your emoji suitcase and start over in another home. Friends and neighbors whose play-date invites and home-cooked casseroles helped give life to a harried foster family. And not one but four teachers who supported you through thick and thin.
Your inner circle was there, too, of course, like your aunt, whose huge bouquet of red and pink balloons and equally buoyant words of support to the judge meant the world to us. And Nonna and Grandpa, who have loved you and treated you with the same devotion as their other grandchildren from the minute you first walked through their door. And your siblings, who opened their home and shared their lives with you, no questions asked.
It does, indeed, take a village.
It’s not over, of course. Your past will always color your present, and there will always be more things to work through. As you grow, I promise to honor all of you — your biological family, your culture, your history, and how all of those will contribute to the person you become.
But today, as we leave this courtroom, you beaming in the floral dress and pink heels you insisted on but can barely walk in, we celebrate. We celebrate perseverance. We celebrate love. We celebrate strength. We celebrate family. And we celebrate new beginnings.
I know you never planned on us. But I’m so glad you took a chance on us.