Every year as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I try to stop and remember how much I have to be thankful for. Admittedly, some years it’s harder than others. Yet, while I may gripe and complain about how busy I am or how the laundry never seems to be done, at the end of the day, I have a bounty of blessings that many could not begin to imagine. I have healthy kids, a close-knit loving family, and a myriad of other things, both tangible and intangible, for which to be thankful.
Unfortunately, I, like many of us, tend to take some of these blessings for granted. In fact, sometimes, it’s not until we meet another person whose life has not mirrored our own that we are able to put things into perspective.
I recently had this opportunity – and today, it is her story I would like to tell.
Traci B. Jones was born in 1970. Soon after birth, she was placed in St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children, an orphanage founded by Catholic nuns in Tidewater after World War II. Over the more than 70 years that the organization has been in operation, thousands of children have come through St. Mary’s doors, but Traci was one of the lucky ones. At least that’s certainly how she sees it.
After nearly seven months in the orphanage, Traci was placed with a foster family and only a few short months after that, went to live with her prospective adoptive parents. Her parents adopted her soon after she came to live with them – a fact that Traci learned when she was seven years old. From then on, June 8th became her “adoption anniversary,” a day that her family celebrated with as much love and excitement as they did the actual day of birth.
For Traci, this day came to take on every bit as much significance as her real birthday, because it was this day that her parents took her into their lives and hearts and gave her a forever home. And it was this day that shaped the trajectory of her life every bit as much as the day she was born.
Looking back over her life, Traci expresses immense gratitude to her parents, not just for the unconditional love they provided, but for how they broached the subject of her adoption. Her mother made a special point of sharing her adoption story with her as soon as she was at an age where she could understand why she didn’t necessarily look like other members of her family and could process the meaning of being born to one mother, but raised as the child of another.
And while her adoption was no secret, her parents did not refer to her as their “adopted child,” nor she to them as her “adoptive parents.” Rather, they simply treated one another as family, because that’s what they were. And while she had not been born to them, Traci now realizes, in many ways, she was born for them.
“My ethics, values, and why I am who I am is because of them. They provided everything I could have needed or wanted. There was a reason I was placed with them.” – Traci B. Jones
Of course, kids are kids and because she had been adopted at such a young age, Traci’s life growing up was no different than many other children. She played with neighborhood friends. She went to school. She even fought with her mom on occasion. And like most of us, it wasn’t until she was a young adult on her own that she began to question and shape her own sense of identity.
As an adopted child, however, discovering who you are requires unearthing the past, asking questions, and often, facing obstacles that most of us have never considered. After a brief time at James Madison University where she was pursuing a degree in finance, Traci realized this wasn’t the path for her. She left school and joined the National Guard where she served in Desert Storm. After returning to Virginia Beach, she eventually enrolled at Old Dominion University and worked at a local bank.
Then one day, everything changed.
In 1996, a co-worker who knew Traci’s backstory brought in a newspaper article about a woman searching for her child in Virginia Beach – a child who happened to have the same birthday as Traci. At first, Traci ignored the coincidence, but even as she was trying to forge her own future, the subject of her history became unavoidable.
It was Traci’s mother, after seeing the article, who took the first step, calling the resources listed in the story and determining that Traci was not, in fact, the child mentioned. But the wheels were set in motion and after deep reflection and consideration, Traci began her search for her biological mother.
Through a series of events, one more uncanny than the next, Traci’s search ended on July 9, 1996. The social worker with whom she had been working located and contacted her birth mother. Over the coming months and years, Traci would forge a bond with her birth mother – one that was at times tenuous, at times joyful, and at times intense. But even as she discovered a “new family” including siblings she never knew she had, her parents never stopped being her parents. They continued to show her the same love, support, and protection they had from the moment she had entered their lives. This ability to understand and encourage her, even as she seemed to be exploring new facets of herself that lay outside of the family they had built, is a fact that Traci attributes not just to her parents’ integrity and love for her, but to her own mother’s background as a social worker.
And it was around the time Traci began delving into her own past that her life took a new turn. Despite growing up swearing that she would never go into the field of social work like her mother, Traci found herself pursuing a career a degree in psychology and completing an internship and practicum at a local department of social services in child welfare. After graduating in 1998, she went to work in foster care where she focused on foster care and adoption, and eventually she received her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Norfolk State University in 2003.
During the course of her career in social work, Traci has seen threads of her own colorful past come together in ways that defy explanation.
Not only did Traci eventually become the supervisor of the very department where she had been placed as an infant, but she also became the supervisor of the woman who had been so integral in her search for her birth mother. In another instance, she was managing a case for three young men placed at St. Mary’s, the orphanage where she spent her infancy. While no longer serving as an orphanage, the facility still had records dating back to Traci’s time there, including a log containing her birth name and the time of her stay. Even more remarkable, during the visit, Traci met a nurse who worked at the orphanage when she was placed there as an infant.
To say that Traci’s steps have been ordered would be an understatement. Every twist and turn her life has taken falls into a beautiful symmetry upon reflection. When I met Traci, she told me that she did not question her path, as she knew it the one she was meant to take.
As I approach Thanksgiving this year, Traci is the kind of person I want to emulate.
Today, Traci serves as the Adoption Program Manager for the Virginia Department of Social Services. With a long, successful career both behind and in front of her, she has gone from foster care, initially placed in an orphanage, to being a person who has the chance to influence and change adoption policy at a state level. And that’s where the real beauty lies.
“Our passion derives from our experience.”
When Traci told me those words, something finally clicked. While I often reflect only on the things that don’t seem to make sense, desperately trying to mold the unknown or unexplained into a neat, logical package, I forget to look for the threads that bring it all together – the ties that bind.
Traci wasn’t born into a world that made sense. In her earliest moments, she was alone. But through the love and care of parents who saw her as their child, beyond DNA or commons genes, she was given a new path and nurtured into the resilient, successful person she is today. But as an adopted child who had the chance to find her birth mother, she was also given a sense of who she is on another level, discovering elements of nature, from physical similarities to personality quirks, that are her inherent birthright.
We view our lives through the lens of experience. But it’s only when we are willing to use that experience as a tool, rather than a burden, that we begin to understand our purpose. Because of the love of a mother who gave Traci up, not of her own doing, Traci’s life began its course. And because of the love of a mother and father who gave Traci a home and a family at a time when she had none, her life was shaped and enriched in ways that cannot be measured.
Together, these people created bonds, knowingly or otherwise, that would shape the future of a child. And today, this is the experience, the skill, and the knowledge that Traci brings to her work – work that strives daily to offer the same hope and resiliency to Virginia’s waiting children.
It’s no small coincidence that National Adoption Month falls in November, a time when we celebrate Thanksgiving and tend to focus our energies inward on family.
But as we gather at tables filled with food and family today, thousands of children in foster care are wondering what their future will be. Over 600 of them are actively waiting for an adoptive parent to see beyond their own worries and into the heart of a child who just wants a chance.
More than 70% of adopted youth are adopted by a foster parent. So this Thanksgiving, if you’ve ever considered adoption or even fostering, remember Traci’s story. Learn more about what it takes to become a foster parent and look to your own experiences to drive your passion.
You never know just how much your love might impact the life of a child.
If you want to learn more about fostering or adoption in Virginia, visit www.AdoptVa.com today.