EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the vows Jean Stratton took in Zen Buddhism.
JEAN STRATTON SMILES the sun-bright smile of a woman whose long-deferred dream has come true.
Jean, 63, and her husband, George, 77, are brand-new parents this year. A little girl named Brooklyn came into their lives four winters ago: At 15 months old, she was a quiet kid who had seen far too much.
This family’s story lifts my spirits. It’s about following your heart around many bends in the road.
George and Jean became foster parents after Brooklyn’s birth mother was unable to care for her. The Strattons fell in love with this girl, a tiny refugee from a drug-poisoned household.
Jean, retired from a career working with youngsters — including many years with the Girl Scout Council — held onto her hope for motherhood. She’d been 45, “an old bride,” she quipped, when she married George. She suffered miscarriages. So Jean and George attended foster parent training together.
When Brooklyn arrived, she hit it off with her foster folks. She would go to George and pat him, saying, “Dada.” She also got to know the dogs, Pixel and Beau.
In January 2014, a phone call came from the birth mother: She wanted her back.
“We were devastated,” Jean said.
Months passed. One awful day at the grocery store, she saw Brooklyn.
“Mama! Mama. I’m here,” she called out.
“I didn’t know what to do,” said Jean.
In the ensuing months, she deepened her study of Zen Buddhism, ultimately taking vows to live a consciously Buddhist-principled life. Also a member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Jean is a woman who meditates, and who loves nature and music.
Then another call in mid-2014. Again, Brooklyn’s birth mother couldn’t care for her.
Working with the Department of Social and Health Services, the Strattons brought her home again, and over many months, they watched her grow into a thoughtful, social kid. Brooklyn went on to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church’s preschool, and Klahhane Gymnastics, and Holy Trinity’s vacation Bible school.
Her birth mother continued a downward spiral. Her parental rights were terminated in August 2016, Jean said.
In April of this year, the Strattons celebrated their finalized adoption of Brooklyn, now 5, with a party at their home.
This fall, Jean and George’s daughter will start kindergarten with a name she announced shortly before the adoption celebration.
“She told me: ‘I’ve decided I’m going to be Brooklyn Grace Stratton,’ ” Jean recalled. The Grace part is new, a name Brooklyn chose for herself.
Our girl, Jean says with a huge smile, is tall, beautiful, smart — and resilient.
“In a calm environment, children can heal,” Mom believes.
When Brooklyn turns 18, Jean will be 76 — and she has no qualms about that. Friends have called her crazy. And now as then, she knows being Brooklyn’s mom is the right thing.
There are times when her daughter still needs to sit in her lap and be rocked. Mom understands. There are also times when Jean needs quiet. She finds it in the early mornings, working in her garden, meditating.
“It’s been a long, bumpy road. It’s been worth it,” Jean acknowledges. Love and hope are found in the rough spots.
For information about foster parenthood and adoption in Washington state, visit Fostering Together.org or email foster parent liaison Linda Cortani at firstname.lastname@example.org. A training will be offered in Port Angeles this September.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Angeles.
Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Aug. 16.
Reach her at Creodepaz@yahoo.com.