Teacher couple adopt pupil

by take-a-break |
Published on

I knew Nate was a special boy from the moment I met him, but I didn’t anticipate how much he’d change my life. By Jenna Riccio, 37

teacher couple adopt pupil

Handing out books to the children in my class, I stopped when I got to a particular boy.

‘This one’s for you,’ I told Nate.

‘Thanks, Miss Davino,’ he replied.

Even though Nate was only six, he had the reading age of a 10-year-old, so I was giving him a more challenging read.

He’d only recently been transferred to our school and before he joined my class the headteacher had told me: ‘He has sickle cell anaemia and is in a wheelchair.’

I discovered that when Nate was three, he’d had his legs, left arm, part of his ear and two-and-a-half fingers on his right hand amputated.

I’d recently got together with Tim, 35, who taught art at the school and we both loved teaching Nate because he was so eager to learn.

He was a shy boy, but as he’d settled in, he told me he lived with his mum and 18-year-old brother, Giovhany.

Then one morning, I noticed Nate’s seat in the classroom was empty.

‘His mum’s called and he’s in hospital,’ the headteacher explained.

Because of his amputations, Nate needed regular surgery as he grew and my heart went out to him.

At morning break, I found Tim in the staff room and made a suggestion. When he agreed, I went to the office and called Nate’s mum.

‘Would it be OK for us to visit Nate in hospital?’ I asked.

‘Oh, he’d love that,’ she said. ‘He talks about you both all the time.’

So after school, Tim and I travelled to the hospital to surprise Nate.

He smiled in his usual sweet way when he saw us.

‘We bought you some video games,’ I said.

‘Thanks,’ Nate replied.

A few days later, he was discharged and was soon back at school.

But just as Nate was about to start year three, the headteacher invited me for a meeting.

‘Nate’s been put in foster care,’ he said.

‘Oh no, that’s terrible,’ I replied.

Sadly, his mum couldn’t currently look after him, but social services hoped to reunite them.

When I discovered a few days later that Nate was having emergency surgery to prevent an infection where his arm was amputated, I was worried there would be no one there for him when he woke up.

So, I went to visit him and, when I walked in, he shouted: ‘Miss Davino, you came!’

We spent the next few hours playing together.

His social worker Jackie was with him and she said: ‘Nate’s foster home is a three-hour round trip to school.’

I worried about how it would affect his learning. The doctors were concerned about him missing medical appointments too.

Desperate to help, I thought: Maybe I could foster him?

I lived in a three-bed house just 10 minutes from the school with my dog Frances, so I had the space.

When I called social services, they said I had a good chance, so I chatted it over with Tim.

‘I know taking on a seven-year-old is a big ask, especially when it’s one of our pupils,’ I said. ‘But I’m so fond of Nate.’

‘Let’s do it,’ he replied.

Over the next days, we attended childcare classes and first-aid training. We passed everything, but there was one final step.

‘I’ll have to ask Nate if he’d prefer to live with you, or his current foster family,’ Jackie explained.

She called me from the hospital and put Nate on the phone.

‘Guess what? I’m coming to live with you!’ he said and I burst into happy tears.

I rushed to the hospital where nurses took me through his daily medication, and all the appointments he’d need to attend.

It was overwhelming, but I was determined to rise to the challenge.

I’d re-decorated one of my spare rooms and bought Marvel bedsheets I knew Nate would love.

When we got home, his face lit up when he saw it.

Tim, my sisters and my mum came over for dinner to celebrate.

Putting Nate to bed that night felt strange. I might have been his teacher, but I didn’t know the first thing about being a parent.

Although Tim and I didn’t live together, he came over every night to help me get Nate ready for bed and he stayed every weekend.

Within weeks, the three of us felt like a family.

Nate called us by our first names, but when he’d recovered from surgery, and it was time for him to return to school, we told him: ‘When you’re at school you need to call us Miss Davino and Mr Riccio.’

We didn’t want other pupils thinking he was getting special treatment.

Three months later, Tim surprised me by proposing on New Year’s Eve. Soon after, he and his dog Telly moved in with us.

As we planned the wedding, we decided Nate would be our ring bearer. But I knew there was a chance he might be back with his mum by the time we married.

We wanted her to be part of his life, but the thought of him being taken from us was gut-wrenching.

In time, Tim and I took Nate to hospital to fit him with his prosthetic legs. Until now, he’d been relying on his wheelchair, but the new prosthetics gave him so much freedom.

Thankfully, when the wedding came around the following year, Nate was still with us.

He looked adorable walking down the aisle in his little suit and it was a wonderful day.

A few weeks later, I was shocked to find out I was pregnant and when we told Nate, he was so excited.

‘I can’t wait to be a big brother!’ he said.

Six months into my pregnancy, I got a surprise call from Jackie.

‘Social services can’t reunite Nate with his family. Would you like to adopt him?’ she asked.

‘I’d love to,’ I replied. Tim felt exactly the same.

We knew the process might take time and, as we waited for news, our baby daughter Julien was born.

Her bond with Nate was instant. She’d smile every time she saw him.

Then, a year later, Tim and I finally got the news we’d been hoping for.

‘The judge is happy for you to adopt Nate,’ Jackie told us.

‘Thank goodness,’ I replied.

By now, Nate had been with us for three years.

We all went to a court hearing where the adoption would be made official.

Nate wanted to look the part, so I’d taken him shopping for a new suit.

Our family and friends came to show their support, as well as Nate’s brother Giovhany.

When the judge said we were officially his adoptive parents, it was the best feeling in the world.

‘This day is amazing!’ Nate said. ‘I’m so happy.’

Later he told us: ‘I want to change my name to Riccio.’

It was the icing on the cake.

Nate’s 10 now and although he’ll always have health issues, he’s determined to be an actor one day.

He’s such a positive, happy boy and I feel honoured to be his mum.

He even refers to us as Mum and Dad when he’s talking to his friends.

I may have started out as Nate’s teacher, but he’s the one who taught me an incredible lesson — how to be a parent.

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