Falling in Love at First Sight
Allyson Erving; Garner, North Carolina
Mother of Christina, 15; Mackenzy, 5; and Austin, 4
Soon after Allyson Erving and her future husband, Chris, met in February 2001, he introduced her to 5-year-old Christina, his brother's daughter, who was living with his parents. He was helping to raise his niece because her own parents had abandoned her when she was just a baby. Erving fell head over heels for her new boyfriend -- and for Christina. "But I was so upset by the conditions she was growing up in, especially after Christina's grandfather died," she recalls. "She was living in a cockroach-infested house with drug dealers in the neighborhood." Christina started spending weekends with the couple, but Erving knew this wasn't enough for any of them.
"I never planned to become a mother so soon, but I loved Christina and wanted her to have a better life," says Erving. "We prayed about it and decided that seeking custody was the right thing to do." In 2003, the couple got married and were given custody of Christina. Though they were thrilled to finally be together, it wasn't the happy ending everybody had been waiting for.
Christina had never been an affectionate child, and this became much more obvious once they were living together. "I'm a very emotional person, but when I'd hug Christina, her hands would be limp, and whenever I told her that I loved her, she'd say, 'I love you too,' in a shallow, robotic voice as if she was forcing herself to say it," recalls Erving. When the couple sought professional help, they learned that Christina had reactive attachment disorder, a condition that can arise when a child doesn't form an attachment to a primary caregiver during the critical first three years of life. Clearly, this is what happened to Christina, whose biological parents were totally absent during that important time. Doctors also told the Ervings that Christina had ADHD and suffered from a mild case of depression. Luckily, medication, and a course of individual and family counseling, and lots of love and patience have made a huge difference. "It is the best feeling to hear her say 'I love you, Mom' or have her give me a hug out of the blue," says Erving, who now also has two biological children, Mackenzy, 5, and Austin, 4.
"This whole experience has taught me so many things. Mostly, that there is much more to being a parent than just sharing the same DNA. So many people can give birth to a child, but being a nurturer, a caregiver, a role model, and a loving and caring adult is what truly makes you a mom or dad," says Erving. "My love for Christina is no different from my love for my biological children. I feel so blessed and know in my heart that God brought us all together for a reason."