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Adopting an Older Child

“No! I won’t! And you can’t make me!” She hurled the words at me with all the fury in her small nine-year-old body. “You’re so mean to me! I hate you!”

Taking a deep breath, then another, I told myself: “You can do this!”

When this feisty little girl came to live with me a few months before, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. But I had no idea it would be this hard. Most of our time together was her raging at me. I remembered that day in the park when I met this girl who would change my life. She wore a drab, ragged dress, hanging almost to her ankles, with ugly shoes.

As she swayed back and forth on the swing, I held out a peanut butter cookie to her. She took the cookie and slowly took a nibble. She looked up at me for the first time and smiled. The smile lit up her dirty face, the gap between her two front teeth. Her hazel eyes glowed, with dimples on each side of her mouth. I was hooked by that smile. I badly wanted a child, she badly needed someone to love her.

I was a 42-year-old divorced woman. Our meeting was devised by Sharon, Becky’s social worker. For years, I knew that I wanted a child. I ached for a child. I didn’t want to go through the rest of my life without a child. I’d invested much in my career as an administrator in a social service agency; I loved my job. But now that wasn’t enough, my longing to have a child was huge.

I called the Children’s Home Society. “Yes, we do single-parent adoptions,” I was happy to hear. I carefully followed all their requirements, including several workshops with Sharon. I learned what to expect when you adopt an older child.

“This child doesn’t want to be in the situation he/she is in,” Sharon advised us.

“He’ll take it out on you. Be prepared for some tough testing.”

“Keep in mind that you’re doing this for yourself,” she stressed.

I’d remember those words, time and time again, over the next few years. Then Sharon said: “If you’re ready to go ahead, we have a girl I think would be a good match for you. Are you ready?”

Was I ready? This is something I had ached for, longed for, dreamed of, for years. But a real child scared me. Terrified me. I didn’t know much about kids, hadn’t had many in my life. No, I wasn’t ready.

The two-year-old had been removed from her mother for neglect. The cute little girl was soon adopted by a family with two boys. With her happy disposition, Becky seemed perfect for them. But it was a disaster for Becky. The mother and brother were physically, verbally, emotionally, and sexually abusive to her. Becky was miserable. The beating and abuse happened most days, year after year.

One day, walking home from third grade, she made a brave decision, knocking on a stranger’s door to ask for help. She was removed. Sharon placed her in a foster home and looked for a permanent home. Being the victim of abuse all those years had changed her dramatically – she wasn’t happy anymore. She never smiled, didn’t get along with people, and wasn’t at all likable. She was angry at the world.

Sharon knew that inside this sullen, unhappy little girl was a child worth saving. She just needed the right family. The right family would be a home with only a mother, no other children. She didn’t know how to get along with other children; she’d never played with other children.

With my calm, easy-going demeanor, Sharon felt I’d be right for Becky. I was scared to death when I first met Becky. Scared that I wouldn’t have whatever it would take to have her in my life – the guts, the grit, and the wisdom to deal with wherever she threw at me.

On her first night with me, she became enraged at me, yelling and throwing things at me. But I wasn’t deterred. The next few years were the hardest of my life. It took Becky a long time to trust me, to trust that I wouldn’t hurt her, like everyone else and that I wouldn’t reject her like everyone else.

Therapy helped us both. We had sessions with Nancy alone, then together. During one joint session, Becky howled: “Why don’t you get rid of me! Everybody always gives me away! Just get it over with!” she cried, snot mingling with her tears.

One day, about four years into our relationship, Becky had a turning point, thanks to Nancy. As we walked into her office, a tiny kitten huddled under a chair. Becky was fascinated by the pitiful little kitten, shaking in fear. Nancy explained that she had just adopted him, but he was afraid of her; he was so afraid of everything. He wanted to be held and loved, but he was too frightened; he’d been hurt too many times before. Every time she tried to pick him up, he snarled, hissed, and clawed her. She wanted to pet him and love him, but he was too scared to let her.

Becky listened intently, looking from Nancy to the terrified little kitten, back to Nancy. Things started to change that day.

A few days later, I was surprised when she asked: “Do you think I could change my name? Rebecca’s not a good name. Nobody likes Rebecca.”

“It’s not the name my mother gave me,” she added. “I want to be the girl she named, Victoria. People like her.”

“Good idea!” I responded.

She went to school calling herself Victoria. Like a miracle, she changed. She lived up to her reclaimed name.

Today, Vicky is in her mid-40s, with a good husband and two great teenagers. Our lives are so blessed to have each other.

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