Gavin was 11 when Michelle and Chad Tapp asked him if he’d like a new brother. It would be a long journey and would involve ups and downs, but Gavin was up for it. So they attended classes focused on the adoption process at Lilliput for about a year.
“Part of the classes were designed to help us realize what we could and couldn’t support as a new adoptive family,” says Michelle. “I remember feeling excited and guilty at the same time, because yes, I was so looking forward to a new little face I could love, but at some point I had to get honest with myself and ask if I was capable of raising a child with bigger needs than we could handle.”
After what seemed like forever, the Tapps became a certified family. About two days later, they got a phone call. Yes, Lilliput knew that they were looking for a child from 0-3 years old (they had figured this out during that year-long process), but there were two brothers, ages 5 and 8. Would the Tapps consider?
They stopped breathing.
This was unexpected. How were they going to do it? Hadn’t they just gone through “honesty-sessions,” where they’d grounded themselves enough to know what they could and couldn’t sign up for? How would this be different? What was going to happen?
They went all-in. They started getting to know Ezyah, 8, and DeAngelo, 5. After a few visits between the Tapps and the boys at Lilliput, the brothers went to visit their potential forever home.
It was the 1st of March - Michelle’s birthday. She closed her eyes and made her wish, blowing out the lit candles on her birthday cake.
The boys’ birth mom, Cristal, still had parental rights, and the adoption hadn’t been finalized yet. She had requested visitations at Lilliput. The first time Michelle and Cristal met, the two women regarded each other. Feeling awkward at first, they turned their focus on the boys and what was best for them, and the meeting was a success. Cristal would see the boys three more times that year. When it was time to relinquish her parental rights, Lilliput arranged for the “Goodbye Meeting,” where the boys would bid farewell to their birth mother.
“It felt wrong,” remembers Michelle. “I asked Ezyah and DeAngelo if they wanted to stay with us or go back to their birth mom. My heart leapt up into my throat when they said of course they’d like to go with Cristal because they loved her - but that they wanted to live with us.” The Tapps and Cristal both agreed with the boys and thought that it would be wonderful to keep in contact and visit from time to time. Michelle’s birthday wish had come true, and there were no goodbyes.
Cristal was an active part of the boys’ lives. She and the rest of the Tapp family had grown close over the short time they had spent together. She visited on holidays, and talked to the boys over the phone. The boys even saw their little cousin, Aniyah - she was 8 years old then.
After Thanksgiving dinner, Aniyah asked Michelle and Chad if she could live with them. It turned out that Aniyah had no bed to call her own (she was mostly sleeping on couches), and she ate sparingly - only during school hours. Agreeing but not sure how to proceed, the Tapps contacted Lilliput again. Lilliput helped them establish legal guardianship, and eventually the Tapps could finalize Aniyah’s adoption.
Another birthday passed for Michelle, and the family grew with the addition of a little girl, now safe from the drugs, neglect, and domestic violence, to which she had unfortunately grown accustomed.
The new family was happy and full. There were now six places at the table, and dinner conversations became fuller and took on a variety of subjects. But there would be challenges for them as they grew together.
Michelle remembers that early on in third grade, Ezyah had trouble in school. “He got into fights, he was upset a lot, and his grades were pretty bad,” she says. “In fact, I remember talking to one of his teachers, and she wasn’t 100% sure Ezyah could read.” Michelle also noticed that DeAngelo seemed depressed and was anxious all the time. “He didn’t want to get involved in anything at school,” she says.
With the help of the programs offered at Lilliput, Ezyah was able to catch up on his learning and started to feel comfortable at school - confident, even. His goal now is to get all A’s and B’s on his report card. And DeAngelo took a year to ride horses - called Equine Therapy at Lilliput. The result? He’s now playing basketball with the other kids on the school team. He’s doing well academically and is well adjusted. And with loving support from the Tapp family, Aniyah is overcoming her traumas and starting to live a child’s life.
On that first of March, with a birthday cake, on a birthday wish, Michelle, Chad, and Gavin would welcome Ezyah, DeAngelo, and Aniyah.
Talking about the journey, Michelle says, “I think the best thing is that the kids don’t have to forget the beginning parts of their lives. Lilliput helped us create a relationship with their birth families, and we’ve always been honest with them from the start about the whole thing. They can talk about it, and it’s an active part of their memories.” When asked about her next birthday, Michelle says that they have a court appointment that day to permanently change Aniyah’s last name.
And the next year after that? “Well,” says Michelle, “we’ll just wait and see what other gifts come along, because they always do.”
If you are at all interested in learning more about this process or if you are ready to stand up and be that hero to a child in foster care, please sign up now and join us at our next RFA Orientation class.