After spending most of their childhoods in foster care, Addy and her brother Dominick had never been to a birthday party or down a water slide. They missed out on many childhood staples, but it was the least of their concerns.
Addy was riddled with anxiety and panic attacks—crippled with fear that she would age out of the system before getting adopted. She carried a backpack full of anxiety fidgets to cope with her uncertain years in foster care. She had such a bad case of TMJ that the kids at school mocked her for adjusting her jaw every ten seconds. She lived on children’s allergy medicine because mystery rashes appeared on her body daily.
Once the siblings were placed in our home, we helped Addy overcome small fears like swimming, hiking, and sleeping with the light off. When we took them to their first theme park, we knew they would be too scared for the rides but hoped they would enjoy the shows, the characters, and some family time.
Eventually, my (bio) teenagers were ready to hit the rides—with or without anyone else.
With a bit of coaxing from the teens, Addy stood in line for one of the big rollercoasters.
We knew she’d only stand in line, and that was OK. Addy couldn’t even ride in a car unless she was sitting in a certain seat. After my teens loaded up onto the ride, she stood off to the side. About 50 people were standing in line behind her. The faces in the crowd looked puzzled as they whispered, “What’s taking so long? What’s the hold-up?” It became clear the little girl wanted to go on the ride but was trembling in fear.
Addy stood off to the side, looking at the empty seat with tears in her eyes. In that seat was the person she wanted to be—brave, adventurous, and free. But there was the person she was—a girl who had been bounced around in foster care, afraid of everything and everyone.
The crowd didn’t know all this. All they saw was a delay. But instead of judgment and impatience, something magical happened.
The crowd began chanting for her.
What started as a few small voices grew into a booming chorus, shouting “GO! GO! GO! GO!” The crowd cheered with smiles on their faces. Some of them pounded their fists in the air like they were at a rock concert. A sea of people of every race, age, and ethnicity combatted fear with encouragement. The crowd was in Addy’s corner.
To my surprise—shock even—Addy got on the ride. She closed her eyes, held on tight, and felt the breeze and tears on her face while the ride dipped and turned and flipped.
The moment she stepped off, she sported a big, proud smile on her face—and the crowd erupted with clapping and cheering louder than before. They didn’t know her story. They didn’t know how much trauma she’s faced and how much fear she’s overcome. They didn’t know how much it took for her to merely stand in line. But they spread kindness anyway. I wanted to hug every one of them.
Addy is no longer the girl defined by anxiety and panic attacks, scared to jump in a pool or go on a hike.
She’s the girl who braved a rollercoaster, dominated sailing camp, and hasn’t touched her anxiety fidgets in months. Her mystery rashes disappeared, and her TMJ is gone. And since the adoption was finalized, she tells all her friends about the God who heard her prayers for a family.
And our son—her brother—he’s unrecognizable too. He’s no longer the boy cowering in the corner or refusing to eat. He’s got a little strut to his step now. They are both growing and maturing and healing one day at a time.
Our journey of fostering and adopting has stretched me so far out of my comfort zone; most days, I feel like I’m dancing off-beat, tripping over myself. But Addy inspires me to show up even when I’m trembling. It might mean letting go of some fears and the way I used to define myself. It might mean holding on tight, letting the tears flow, and going along for an unexpected ride with God. But her bravery encourages me to keep standing in line against every fear because every baby step is one step closer to sitting in the seat as the person and mother I want to become.