Dylan and Nancy

Trust & Courage | Summer 2015 Spotlight | Photos and article by Julie Williams Dixon |

More photos of Dylan and Nancy »

The sky is threatening rain, but Nancy Almon helps 7-year-old Dylan strap on elbow and knee pads and buckle his helmet before he climbs onto his brand-new freestyle bicycle.

The scene is almost Rockwellian. Nancy’s yard overlooks a sprawling field and pond, complete with a white farmhouse in the distance. As Dylan takes off on his two-wheeler, his mom runs alongside, helping him master one of childhood’s most beloved rites of passage: Riding without training wheels.

Fundamentally, the task of learning to ride a bike is about mechanics and balance. But in practice, it’s so much more. It’s about trust and courage. The child has to learn to trust himself. The mother has to summon courage to let the child try and fail—at least a few times.

Nancy and Dylan are familiar with these qualities.

Trust comes slowly to children who’ve lived with trauma, and Dylan is no exception. But he can turn on the charm with smiling brown eyes and an intellect unmistakably beyond his years. As he talks for this article, he wants to construct the narrative himself: “Just say that I like it here. That could be your whole story. Say that I like the house, I like the food and I like my mom.”

But that’s not the whole story. For Dylan and for Nancy, there have been plenty of bumps and unexpected turns.

Dylan and his two older sisters were removed from their home in November 2010 and placed into foster care. When that happens, the first goal usually is to reunite parents and children—and that was the case for Dylan’s family. Parents wanting to regain custody are required to reach certain milestones, like passing drug tests, getting a job and proper housing, and showing up for appointments.

Sometimes that process takes months. Other times, it takes years. For Dylan, the waiting went on for nearly three years as his parents did enough to keep the process alive, but not enough to bring their children home.

Nancy can remember the day she saw Dylan for the first time. It was a Saturday in December 2010 and he was at a Methodist Home for Children party, spending his first Christmas in foster care. She didn’t meet him then or learn his name, but she recognized him 28 months later when he walked into her home for an overnight respite stay.

An elementary school guidance counselor, Nancy had always wanted a family, and when she found herself childless at age 45, she decided to adopt through MHC’s foster care program. “Here I was middle-aged, with no family,” she says. “I was going to do whatever it took to adopt a child, which I thought about my whole life.”

But she had learned an early lesson in caution. Shortly after she started fostering, she thought she’d found the child she would adopt—a sweet 3½-year-old girl. She grew attached in their three months together and was heartbroken when social workers moved the child into a different foster home to live with her brother. “I loved her dearly and really wanted to keep her,” Nancy says. “I needed some time to get past that.”

She took a break to grieve her loss and, later, to buy a new home. She had recently returned from her foster care hiatus when Dylan arrived for respite care one night in April 2013—and he gave her the courage to try again.

DylanNancy and Dylan started with a couple of short overnight visits and then, on a weekend in May, everything felt right. They were walking around together at a local arts festival when they came to a chalkboard with a writing prompt neither could resist:

“Before I die I want to ____________”
Nancy wrote: “adopt a child.”
Dylan wrote: “grow up.”

By the time he met Nancy, Dylan had spent half of his life in foster care—and he’d had a few rough spots. He’d lashed out with angry tantrums in his first two homes and he’d been separated from his sisters. He’d tested for ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which qualified him for therapeutic foster care.

Dylan found stability with Crystal Pargo in her therapeutic foster home. He knew she wasn’t going to adopt, but he grew to love her dearly in their two years together, joining holidays and vacations with her extended family and bonding with her granddaughter, who also lived in the home.

He still loved his parents and he’d been allowed unsupervised visits to see them—but he couldn’t go home for good unless they met their reunification goals. Nor could he be adopted unless his parents relinquished (or a judge terminated) their rights to him.

Dylan had started to build a bond with Nancy through their respite visits when the waiting ended in June 2013. His father had gone to jail and his mother wasn’t able to keep a home on her own, so they decided to end their rights to Dylan and his older sisters. For the girls, that meant adoption by extended family members. For Dylan, that meant leaving Crystal for a family wanting to adopt.

Nancy was first in line.

On a Saturday in August 2013, Dylan moved into Nancy’s home, and 14 months later, his adoption was finalized. Nancy had her wish—but it had not come easily.

Dylan wrestled with anger and feelings of rejection by his biological family. A younger sister, born while he was in foster care, moved into Nancy’s home at the same time he did. He was jealous that she got to make home visits to see their biological mother. He did not. Eventually she went back to live with their mother. He did not.

He will struggle with the terms of his early childhood for years to come—no matter how much he loves Nancy and accepts her as his mom, says MHC Foster Care Specialist Cheryl Warren. How do you explain to a child that his biological mother relinquished rights to him—but not to her youngest? That she got her act together for a sibling—but not for him?

Therapy and psychiatric counseling have helped, and Nancy keeps the family ties that are important to Dylan. They stay in touch with weekend visits to Crystal’s house, and Dylan gets to spend occasional Saturdays with his sisters and great-aunt. Taekwondo lessons have been a saving grace, Nancy says, with their emphasis on respect for parents and keeping your room clean. “The taekwondo place is his safe haven,” she says. “The masters are kind and confident people, and he’s moving the whole time so it’s something he enjoys.”

Nancy is determined to see Dylan through his pain and help him become the happy and fulfilled person God meant him to be: “I really look forward to watching him grow and seeing what his talents are—and helping him develop his gifts.”

Trust and courage have brought the two of them this far. They’re in evidence on the day that Nancy helps Dylan learn to ride a bike—and they’ll sustain this family in the years ahead.

When Nancy bought the home they live in, she says she was captivated by its peaceful view. The soft cushion of needles from the large old pines will bode well for Dylan as he learns to ride his bike.

On this afternoon with his mom, Dylan builds up speed and stays upright for quick bursts through the yard. He topples to the side when he feels like he’s losing control. And Nancy is there to watch—and to pick him up each time and dust him off.