Tia and Mia met her at a park in Shakopee -- a midpoint between their home in Inver Grove Heights and her final foster home in Le Sueur -- in July 2011. A month later, they packed her stuff and moved her in.
"We weren't even out of Le Sueur when she said, 'Can I call you Mom now?'" Tia said.
The concern with any state increase in adoptions is that children might be pushed into homes that aren't right for them. About 3 percent of the adoptions in Minnesota result in children returning to foster care -- often because their behaviors were more difficult to deal with than parents expected. That rate hasn't changed in recent years, though.
Tia expected challenges -- that Brianna might lash out to see if she would reject her like other adults had. The transition to a large high school was particularly stressful, and Brianna passed her stress right onto Tia. Frustration often got so intense that Tia decided she would need to retreat to her room and listen to music -- hoping to set a calm, positive example for Brianna in tense situations.
"When she was in that residential treatment center, she would act out in a physical manner," Tia said. "So they had to do lockdowns and they had to work with her to use words when she was angry. So, she uses words now when she's angry. Now, I need to take it a step further and make sure she doesn't use hurtful words."
Over time, Brianna made friends and grew comfortable at Simley High School. She joined a traveling volleyball team and became a star server. Her grades rose to all As and Bs.
The state needs to do more to support families such as the Vasquezes through that early turbulence by maintaining counseling and support services, Sullivan Sutton said. She also favors legislation to raise adoption payments for families so they at least equal what foster parents receive.
"We just don't want to have adoptions finalized and then everybody walks away" from the families, she said.
Months into their new life, the Vasquez girls have a familiarity that gives Tia confidence. She bought them kittens -- one blond to match Brianna's hair, one black to match Mia's hair -- and they entered them together in a pet owner look-alike contest at Inver Grove Heights Days. (They finished third.)
And of course they fight, but not like strangers. Like sisters.
"I want my own laptop" for Christmas, said Brianna, turning slowly and glaring at her sister one afternoon. "So no one else can touch it ... ever."
This Christmas is the first since the adoption, but not their first together. Last year was special because it was new. This year is all about creating traditions for the new family.
Tia hung candy canes on the tree, because Brianna mentioned how she had liked them on a tree in one of her foster homes. It was a rare positive memory from her past, so Tia seized on it. The only problem is that Brianna keeps eating them.
Tia also bought an ornament with their names on it last year, and bought another this year. Brianna wanted one with three bears -- one for each family member. Mia wanted an ornament with three monkeys. So Tia bought one with penguins.
"I didn't want to make one of them mad at me because I chose the one the other wanted," Tia said. "I have to keep the peace!"
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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