When Karina Bland of Arizona met 2.5-year-old Brooklyn, she knew the little girl would forever have a place in her heart—however fleeting their time together might be.
“She called me ‘Ballerina,’” Bland wrote in The Arizona Republic. “‘Karina’ must have sounded like ‘ballerina’ to her … I never corrected her.”
Bland’s cousin Kasey Harris had just been licenced to be a foster parent, and Brooklyn was to be her first foster child.
Brooklyn had been in foster care for much of her life because her parents were unable to care for her properly.
The little girl with a high ponytail arrived at Harris’s wearing clothing that was too small; her speech was babyish.
She loved swimming and baby dolls. And so it was a few days later that Bland met Brooklyn—with a baby doll tucked under her arm, Brooklyn came to swim in Bland’s pool.
Brooklyn took Bland’s hand, and they swam and played on the tree swing, they read stories, she ate grapes. It was like she’d always been a part of the family, Bland wrote.
Harris was very close with her cousins, aunts, uncles, and the many friends who were unofficial family too.
She called me "Ballerina." I called her Baby Girl. And whatever you call us, we’ll be her family. Forever.
The little girl was showered with love from them all. They bought her new clothes, threw her a Disney-themed party for her third birthday, and bought her toys and books.
Harris, who was already mom to baby Willow, embraced the role of Brooklyn’s mom—she was there to comfort her after every tantrum, there for every bedtime story, every trip to the doctor or therapist or dentist.
“She taught her to talk, use silverware and keep her napkin on her lap,” Bland wrote. “She took her to her first dance class and her first movie. She took her on an airplane and to the beach for the first time.”
Bland took her on trips to the theater, the aquarium, and the pet store. She and other “family” members were always on hand to help as Harris balanced work as a realtor with raising two young children.
Brooklyn came to call Harris “Mommy,” but maybe she knew that Harris probably wouldn’t be her mom forever.
Throughout the year, Brooklyn had contact with her birth parents, but the relationship was difficult.
“They didn’t always show up for supervised visits, and [Brooklyn] came home sad or mad, sometimes both,” Bland wrote.
It was looking more and more like making a happy home with her birth parents wasn’t going to happen. Eventually, the courts took away her birth parents’ legal rights, meaning Brooklyn was now free to be adopted.
Brooklyn, now 4 years old and dreaming of becoming an artist, said for her forever family “she wanted a mom and a dad and a dog,” Bland wrote.
For a few months it looked like Brooklyn might have found an adoptive family—one with a mom, dad, dog, and siblings—but it didn’t work out.
Harris contemplated adopting Brooklyn, but then her birth aunt and uncle stepped forward. They had a dog.
Robert and Ashley DeSanto lived in Texas, but they were keen to get to know Brooklyn, spending hours talking via FaceTime.
One day, Brooklyn had some news for Bland.
“They’re gonna be my momma and daddy,” she told Bland. “Maybe they will love me.”
“I hugged her so she wouldn’t see my tears,” Bland wrote. “‘I’m so happy for you,’ I said into her hair. I told her I would miss her.”
The DeSantos came to visit for a week and Brooklyn felt an instant connection with them.
She waited a long time for this day — half of her lifetime, in fact.
At dinner, Brooklyn leaned toward Bland and whispered loudly, “Do you like them?”
“I do like them,” Bland replied. “Do you like them?”
“They’re the best,” she said.
But Bland wasn’t prepared to let Brooklyn go completely.
“I know you think you’re just getting a 4-year-old but really, you’re getting all of us,” Bland said to Brooklyn’s aunt and uncle.
Ashley nodded in understanding, tears in her eyes.
When it was finally time for Brooklyn to leave, they threw a big farewell party.
The next day they met Ashley and Robert at the airport. It was time to say their goodbyes.
“She looked at the group standing around her and wiped her tears with the back of her hand. She hugged her Court Appointed Special Advocate, one more time. She took hold of her aunt’s hand and her uncle’s little finger, and they walked to the gate,” Bland wrote.
“We watched her until we couldn’t see her anymore, all of us.”
One year later, and Brooklyn was back in Arizona at the Maricopa County Juvenile Court.
She held the hands of her aunt and uncle as they walked to the courtroom. Friends and family accompanied them. And there too was Harris, Bland and all the rest of the tribe that Brooklyn had come to love.
“She’d been waiting a long time for this day—half of her lifetime, in fact,” Bland wrote in The Arizona Republic.
Once they were seated comfortably, the court proceedings got underway. Finally it was time for the attorney to ask the most important questions.
Did Ashley DeSanto wish to adopt the girl?
“I sure do,” Ashley replied, according to Bland, reaching out her hand to Brooklyn.
Then it was Robert DeSanto’s turn to answer the question.
“Yes, sir,” he said.
Robert smiled at his wife and the little girl as he told the attorney he was prepared to love and care for Brooklyn forever.
And so on March 12, 5-year-old Brooklyn was officially adopted.
When the judge announced the adoption was final, Brooklyn jumped up from her seat in excitement. She had a new name—and a forever family.
For Bland and Harris, Brooklyn will always be a part of their family too.
“Brooklyn has her family now, officially. And she still has us, keeping her in the center of our circle,” Bland wrote.