Brandie

BrandieTime to be a Kid | Summer 2014 Spotlight | photos by Julie Williams Dixon |

On a sunny May morning in 2012, 11-year-old Brandie waited in the hallway outside a closed door at the Iredell County Department of Social Services. Behind the door, adults were talking about her future—her life. Two of them might become her next parents.

By that time, Brandie had lived with five foster families. Two of them had planned to adopt her, but neither worked out: One family gave up, frustrated with waiting for her to be freed for adoption, and the other got cold feet when it was time to sign the papers. For the last 1½ years, she’d lived in a single foster home.

“I felt so sorry for her,” says David, who was in the DSS office that day with his wife, Wendy. “We hadn’t seen her yet. All I could keep thinking was, ‘I can’t imagine there’s a little girl out there in the hallway, waiting to come in and see her new parents.’ How do you get beyond that? Just to open the door, you have to be so brave to do that.”

When Brandie did finally step into the room—wearing a sparkly butterfly T-shirt and jeans, blonde hair back in a French braid—she was like a closed flower, David says. She was bright and sweet, but a little guarded. She needed the parenting equivalent of water, a green thumb, fertilizer and sunshine to bloom.

David and Wendy wanted to provide that parenting for Brandie. After 28 years of marriage, they’d decided to adopt an older child who needed them, someone they could have a conversation with and get to know. When Brandie was referred from social services to Methodist Home for Children, they were first in line to meet her.

A year later, on June 28, 2013, her adoption was final and they were officially her parents.

Brandie and Chase

Today, in many ways, Brandie is a typical 13-year-old girl, pinballing between childhood and adolescence, embracing and challenging her parents almost simultaneously. In their care, she had her first roller-skating party, her first Halloween trick-or-treating, her first trip to Toys ‘R Us for a bike at Christmas. She sings alto in middle school chorus. She loves her dog, Chase, and her American Girl doll. She has a nice group of friends. She likes drawing and crafts. She’s generous with friends and strangers alike, and she bakes great chocolate chip cookies from scratch.

But before she came to David and Wendy, Brandie’s childhood was anything but typical. She was 5 years old on July 5, 2006, when she and her younger brother, Blake, were removed from their home. There had been violence and neglect, and Brandie can remember being hit in the head with a plate and being hungry when her parents left them alone. An elderly man sometimes came to the house and slid food under the porch rails before social services took the children away.

The siblings were placed together in foster care and later separated. Blake was adopted by a family living 170 miles away, and Brandie still sees him every few months, but she’s not allowed by court order to see an older brother who lives with family members.

The years of uncertainty, of building and breaking off relationships, are hard on foster children, and Brandie sometimes found herself struggling when she thought she’d be celebrating. She wanted to start calling Wendy and David “Mom” and “Dad” on her second visit to their home, but on the day she moved in, she sobbed in the backseat as they drove away from her foster home.

“She was saying, ‘I want to stay with you, I want to stay with you. I want you to adopt me,’ ” Wendy says. “But she was missing her foster mother.”

David, Brandie and WendyDavid and Wendy have had to learn to navigate the unpredictable twists of adolescence and the fault lines of grief and insecurity in a child who’s been through so much at such a young age. Brandie has had to learn to trust her parents and to allow herself to be a kid after years of guarding herself physically and emotionally.

Even in the best circumstances, tweens and teens can take up a lot of emotional and physical space—but perhaps more so in a home where there were no children before. David and Wendy agree that the learning curve has been steep for them all. They expect Brandie to be respectful and follow family rules, but they’re aware, too, of what she’s been through and they wonder what it must have felt like.

“It never entered my mind as a kid to ask, ‘Will we always live here? Could I come home and [discover that] Mom threw Dad out or vice versa? Or Dad’s in jail?’ ” David says. “You just knew that Mom and Dad would always be there. Your house would always be there. You were safe. I don’t think I could have comprehended at her age that this could be gone in a minute. Tomorrow morning you might want me out of there.”

Brandie

Photos above courtesy of David and Wendy: On her first visit, Brandie decorated her bedroom with block letters in her favorite color. They’re a hot-pink reminder of how much she’s grown in her three years with David and Wendy.

One night, shortly after Brandie arrived, she told David that he’d never understand because he hadn’t lived the life she had. He agreed with her—in part. Then he pointed to a book they were reading and suggested another way of thinking about it. “Every year of your life represents a chapter in a book. You’ve lived 11 of those years. They’ve already been written. We can’t change that,” he told her. “But if you leaf through the book, chapters 12 through 90 are all clean white pages. Chapters yet to be written. Now you have  more of a say over your future and how things are going to turn out, and that’s how I want you to think of your life.”

David and Wendy have some ideas about what they’d like to see written on those pages of Brandie’s life. They want her to go to college and become a happy, productive adult. They want to help her discover her natural talents and abilities. “I told her that as long as it’s legal and moral,” David says, “we just want you to become that person you were meant to be.”