Courtney Rae arrived at my home, clutching a bag of toys and clothes. Her eyes darted around the room as she took in her new surroundings. Courtney Rae looked at her relinquishing foster mother, and then focused her eyes on me. Her new foster/pre-adoption mother. Standing firm, she angrily declared, “I hate you. You stink and this house stinks too!”
Our first night together was consumed with a little girl’s rage as Rae kicked the walls and screamed, “I don’t have any mama!” Exhausted and drenched in perspiration, she finally fell asleep. It was at this point that I approached her and began stroking her head and touching her fingers and toes, in awe. I fought back tears of sorrow as she, even in a deep sleep, clutched her jaw and tightened her face.
Courtney Rae looked so much older than her seven years and my joy in welcoming her into my life were only dampened by the realization that this girl’s loses were huge. Her pain evoked memories of my own lengthy experience in foster care, many years earlier. From that personal knowledge, I knew that on that night, a part of Courtney Rae’s spirit had died. I sat watching her sleep and I wondered if she had enough strength left to heal.
Over the following weeks, Courtney Rae struggled to gain control over her losses and would often declare, “I am the boss!” She was inconsistent in accepting kind gestures, loving touch, or comfort of any type. One night, she impishly complained, “Lady, you forgot to hug me goodnight.” Encouraged and hopeful, I quickly went to her side only to have her smack my hand away. For me, this was a positive sign of the strength I had been praying to find Rae was open and receptive to being loved, even if she still felt conflicted and distrusting.
Courtney Rae’s desire to please others made her easy to motivate. From the beginning, she was very responsible with chores. She began mothering a stray kitten I brought home and relayed her personal story through this tiny animal. Sometimes she asked about the kitten’s ‘real’ mother and ‘real’ home.
Still, her anger surfaced at unexpected moments and her sleep patterns were disrupted. At night, she would hide under my bed and I would awaken to find her asleep on the floor. Courtney Rae was overweight and highly dependent on food for comfort. At times, she ate with her hands or put her face down in a plate and gulped down big bites, with no self-awareness.
Yet, Courtney Rae did especially well in parochial school as she was curious about everything and displayed strong academic skills. Her teacher and principal felt that Courtney Rae’s potential was enormous and praised her for her excellent reading and math abilities. Rae was eager to prepare for Baptism and First Communion. She volunteered to be an altar girl at church and within a short time was ‘adopted’ by our church family.
Courtney Rae and I found recreation to be our main source of bonding. We camped in the woods or slept in sleeping bags on the trampoline in our back yard. Jumping rope, swimming and playing hide and seek were regular activities. She joined Brownies and I volunteered at Habitat for Humanity. We cooked together, spent hours with friends, played dolls and worked out compromises with music and movies.
Courtney Rae’s daily actions began to show greater signs of hope. She asked, “When I grow up can I have a key to your house so I can come see you?” Within months, she began to speak of growing up with me and revealed plans for our future together. However, that future was still uncertain. Courtney Rae has transitioned to my home with the expectation of becoming eligible for adoption and I desperately hoped to become her adoptive mother. Yet, many months after she arrived, her birth family’s rights had not been terminated. Her birthmother, incarcerated and unable to care for her daughter, was surrendering her rights. Her birthfather promised to appeal involuntary termination. Hopeful, but certain, I offered Rae the best reassurance I could. I promised to try to make her my forever daughter.
Together we dreamed of adoption day. That day came in October of 2003. My forever daughter is my “Rae” of sunshine and we have become a family in the best sense, even adding a little brother to our nest. On my birthday, Courtney Rae gave me a note:
I thank you for fixing my life so neatly.
I thank you very sweetly.
I’m glad I have a mom like you.
Dear Courtney Rae,
I’ve never been happier in my whole life.
I’m so glad I have you for my daughter.
—Wilma Ice, Virginia
This story is an excerpt from the book, Adoption Means Love: Triumph of the Heart. Real and raw, the book explores the many experiences and emotions of adoptees, adoptive parents, birthparents, foster youth, and foster parents.