YUCAIPA, California - Eight-year-old Sophia, who lives in Yucaipa with her legal guardians Mary Ann and Steve Wells, is a lot like other kids her age. She plays with toys, sketches artwork, and goes to school every day. But this weekend, something is happening to her that doesn't happen to most children.
"I'm getting adopted by nana and papa," shouts the excited, and very precocious child.
Mary Ann and Steve Wells are in their sixties. They thought retirement was going to be all about vacations and relaxation. But now they're in raising an 8-year-old.
"When you look into her eyes, to know we're adopting her, all that stuff isn't important at all," said Steve Wells.
But when asked to describe the adoption process, Mary Ann laughs. "Challenging," she said.
Their story began eight years ago. Mary Ann Wells worked as a nurse at Loma Linda Children's Hospital, when she met a two-and-a-half week old child, who was in the hospital with a birth defect called Gastroschisis.
"Her intestines were born on the outside of her abdomen," said Wells. The birth defect required surgery, and Sophia spent 11 months in the hospital, most of the time in isolation.
"I would sing to her, hold her, cuddle her," said Wells. "So that was probably it more than anything, the amount of time I spent with her."
Wells said the child's father was completely out of the picture, and the mother was quite often not present. "If a surgery occurred, you expect a parent to be there non-stop, or at least at the baby's bedside," said Wells. "And that's what wasn't there. When it was determined by the medical staff that there was excessive medical noncompliance, that's when CPS got involved in the case."
And that's when Mary Ann and Steve considered adoption. Now, three years later, and after spending more than $100,000 in legal costs, the adoption is almost complete.
How excited is Sophia? "Super-duper, ultra-mega," she exclaimed.
Sophia is one of 52 children scheduled to have their adoptions finalized on Saturday, Nov. 4 at the historic courthouse in downtown Riverside. That's when her last name will officially become Wells. Sophia has decided that her middle name will be Genesis.
"It's going to be like a new beginning," Sophia said. "It's going to remind me how my adoption is going to happen."
November is National Adoption Awareness Month.
"If you want to make the difference in the life of a child; if you want to give them hope," said Mary Ann Wells. "It's a commitment, but wow! To have a child look at you and say, 'Nana, you're my hero,' what else could you ever ask for?"