This column was published in the Tri-Valley Herald on July 22, 2008.
Sabrina Chaco of Livermore was 8 years old when one day after school her parents had something to tell her that would change her life forever.
“My mom actually put me on her lap,” wrote Chaco, now 12, in a recent school essay, “and told me that she and my dad loved me so much and that they were sad they couldn’t give me a baby brother for Christmas like I had asked a few years ago.”
Her mother went on to say they were thinking about adopting two sisters, ages 2 and 4, from a foster home. The little girls were wards of the state.
They also happened to be Chaco’s cousins, her father’s sister’s children.
“Wondrous thoughts bounced around in my head,” Chaco wrote. “Would they like me? Would they share the same room as me? Are they friendly? What if they think I’m mean? Could they be mean?”
Chaco’s parents wanted her to be part of the decision about whether to adopt. “I had to think it through,” she wrote, adding that saying no would mean wondering her whole life about what could have been, while saying yes could cause regret. After all, though she had an older half-sister named Tasheena, Chaco was living like an only child since Tasheena had her own place and Chaco usually got whatever she wanted.
“But just looking at how happy my parents were, and seeing those wide smiles on their faces and how much this meant to them was what convinced me the most,” she wrote.
Chaco gave her mom a big hug and kiss and said in a cheerful voice, “Of course! It’s totally fine with me.”
Soon the family was driving down every three weeks to Southern California to visit the sisters in their foster home. This went on for six months and included visits with the girls’ social workers, court-appointed attorneys, and counselors.
After a hearing in which the rights of the girls’ biological parents were abolished, a judge allowed the girls to move in with their new family in November 2004. Within a month the little girls started referring to Chaco’s parents as mommy and daddy.
Still, this was only the beginning of the adoption process.
“We were answerable to the state,” said Rose Chaco, Sabrina’s mother. Over the course of the two-year adoption process, the Chacos were visited twice by court-appointed attorneys and every month by various social workers.
“Not only were we subject to questioning,” said Rose, “but our home had to meet state standards and was subject to inspection.” State workers checked sleeping accommodations, fire extinguishers, child safety latches, even the temperature of the water heater.
“We were exhausted, but we never gave up,” Rose said. “My husband and I felt like we were living under a microscope, but we understood the need for such procedures.”
Sabrina Chaco recalls enjoying the process of picking new names for the girls: “My mother and father wanted all of our names to start with an S and end with an A since my name was Sabrina. We ended up giving them really long names.”
Chaco’s youngest new sister, Aaliyah, became Samantha Aaliyah Flisco Chaco. Her other new sister, Kylani, became Sophia Kylani Flisco Chaco.
In November 2006, thanks primarily to a mother’s willingness to open her heart to two little girls whose troubled early years will likely complicate the years to come, the adoption became final. For many people, such a choice would mean too many sacrifices.
But not for Sabrina’s mom.
Born in Florida, Rose Chaco moved at an early age to Guam where she grew up and lived for 21 years. “My father was in the Navy,” she said. “When my parents divorced, my brother and I lived with my mother, while my father continued his Navy career.”
After graduating from college with a degree in psychology, Rose’s love of children led her to become a caseworker for a privately funded shelter for troubled youth. “Most of my cases involved children who were physically and sexually abused,” she said. “It was an emotionally demanding job.”
While Guam is a beautiful place, Rose said tough economic times prompted her to return to the United States with her husband and daughter in June 2000. Among her various possessions, she brought along from Guam her compassion for children in need.
“I love all my children,” she said. “In my eyes, I have always had four daughters, and while we may not be the typical family, we are still a family.”
And as for Sabrina Chaco, she has no regrets: “I often look back and wonder what my life would’ve been like if I said that it wasn’t okay with me,” she wrote. “But every time I think about it, I am more convinced I made the right choice. I can’t imagine my life without my sisters.”