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Unexpected gains

The Cox family

Tamarra Cox describes her 28-year-old daughter Ayden as “a beautiful person and daughter, who challenges me and helps me see the world in new ways.” And she says her 27-year-old son Nate reflects the “heart and soul” of their family of seven.

If not for two unexpected meetings through Tamarra’s job as a high school teacher, she might never have met either of them.

“Did that just happen?”

When she first met Ayden, the teen stood out in Tamarra’s high school classroom, not only for her bright red hair and punk rock wardrobe, but for her intelligence, curiosity, and love of learning. “She’s a smart cookie,” says Tamarra.

During lunch breaks, Ayden, alongside other students, would snack and do homework in Tamarra’s classroom, and she would sometimes chat with Tamarra. One day, she asked Tamarra a question that surprised the teacher: should she choose to emancipate or to stay in foster care?

“I had not even known she was in foster care,” says Tamarra, who, with her husband Gary, had three children already. Ayden and Tamarra began to talk more often, and the relationship blossomed rather quickly. So much so that when Ayden asked Tamarra to attend a team decision-making meeting with her current foster family and social workers, she agreed without hesitation. There, Tamarra learned that Ayden moved to respite care on weekends rather than staying with her foster family. Tamarra offered up her home as a respite alternative, and after completing paperwork, Ayden began visits. She and the Cox family got to know each other through laughter, conversation, and dinners at home.

Only a couple of weeks later, Ayden, Tamarra, and Gary decided to take a much bigger step. They began the path to adoption.

“Gary and I were kind of giddy at first—it was almost like finding out we’re pregnant.”

And, like a new pregnancy, their feelings ranged from joy to nervous anticipation as they prepared for the responsibilities of parenting a new addition to their family tree, someone with her own roots that would now intertwine with theirs for the rest of their lives.

Ayden soon moved in after the Cox Family made some simple changes to their home. As a 15-year-old, she was able to make that choice herself. The adoption process was longer than anticipated, but finally became official near Ayden’s 18th birthday.

“We missed out on the first 15 years of being a part of each other’s lives, but we have a long future to support each other and create memories.”

Moving beyond the honeymoon period

It is not uncommon for teenagers and parents to disagree. There was a “honeymoon period at first,” says Tamarra, “but after a while it seemed as though Ayden disagreed with everything I said.” There were arguments and discussions as everyone adjusted to the new family dynamic.

One day, after a particularly difficult conversation, Tamarra went to her bedroom and shut the door in order to cool off. When she came back out, she found Ayden packing her things, assuming that Tamarra was so angry she would no longer want her in the house. Tamarra reassured her daughter that being mad was temporary but that her love for her daughter was permanent. Over time, relationships became stronger as family members were able to communicate more honestly. Ayden also bonded with her new siblings who were a critical support system for her.

Nate joins the family

Six months later, Nate, then 15, was a new face in Tamarra’s classroom.

“With a new perspective gained from Ayden, I became more sensitive to students that may need more support,” Tamarra says. After Nate told her he lived in a group home, she began to offer him school supplies and snacks from her classroom stash and told him she would help him in any way she could.

But soon after, she lost that option. He wasn’t in class, and she learned he’d been moved to another school, an all too common reality for many kids in the system.

Fate intervened, and one day Nate’s girlfriend told Tamarra he was hoping to talk to her. With the approval of Nate’s social worker, Tamarra tracked him down at his new foster home. She learned he didn’t live far from her home, and soon she and Ayden were providing moral support and daily coffee by meeting him at his bus stop during the daily school commute. Tamarra eventually gained visitation rights. One step at a time, Nate became a part of the whole family’s lives.

At age 18, Nate began to live at the Cox home full time. Through several challenges, it was always evident that Nate had a “heart of gold,” says Tamarra. He is the kind of person who puts others’ needs before his own, and who walks in the front door every day with his arms wide open. “He is so committed to our family,” she says. At 21, his adoption was finalized, says Tamarra. Adult adoption is fairly easy in California, but that’s not true in many places. “We should fight for it universally,” she says. “We missed out on the first 15 years of being a part of each other’s lives, but we have a long future to support each other and create memories.”

They changed our world

“I think sometimes some of the most wonderful moments in our life happen unexpectedly,” says Tamarra. For her family, that’s been true twice over with Ayden and Nate. “Sometimes when your heart is telling you to get to know a child, the message might be to not overthink it and to take it a step at a time. That’s what happened with us and it’s been immensely rewarding. There’s not an ounce of regret. I’m the lucky one. Immensely lucky. They blessed our family and changed our world.”