Our House: What my life could have been, and what it is

Ellena McConnell was adopted at age 11. At 19, she looks back on life before and after.

Ellena’s first visit to Maymont.

My name is Ellena McConnell; I’m 19 years old and was adopted eight years ago. My birth family consisted of an abusive father who left us when I was three; my mother, who would bring random men home from the bars into our home with only a sheet for a door to separate us from them; my oldest half-brother David, who would be in and out of jail (and missing out on his own daughter’s life); my half-sister Pam, who has three kids of her own (all taken away and adopted out together as well); and my other half-brother Joey, who had been arrested and put into junior correctional facilities multiple times. Then there were my full siblings–Julia and Juan, whom I basically raised, even though Julia is two years older than myself. My little brother referred to me as “Mommy.”

No adults in our trailer had a job–our main source of food was dumpster diving.

Growing up in a bi-racial family was hard, as well. It felt like you were either loved only by the Mexican side of the family or the white side of the family. Me…I wasn’t accepted by either. This feeling of being not wanted caused me to rebel, thinking to myself, “If I’m not going to get attention being good, I’ll just be bad.”

Ellena at 15 at her quinceañera.

Ellena at 15 at her quinceañera.

So I did pretty much whatever I pleased. By age six, I was staying out as late as 4:00 AM, hiding from the trailer park’s patrol cop. I became a professional liar when I need to be. The people I called my friends ranged from between 14 and 19, and that 14-year-old was already pregnant. This was my life, and I wasn’t even seven yet.

After years of visits from Social Services, we were removed from our trailer and placed into foster care in November of 2005. My sister and I were put into the same home, while our brother was in a different one. At the time, I didn’t get why they would do that–we were truly all he’d ever known. Now I understand that separating us was necessary to break the mother-son bond we had so we could instead develop a more appropriate a brother-sister bond.

Adjusting to foster care was hard. You’re all of a sudden thrown into a life that is “normal,” which to us wasn’t normal at all. Daily hygiene, going to school, and talking to people our age…it all felt weird and unnatural to us. I remember looking at kids and thinking “They’re so childish, why would you want to play a Barbie or play house?” In some ways, I was jealous of how easily happy and carefree they were. As an adult, I realize that they were children, and that’s what children are supposed to do.

I never had a childhood–playing with toys and singing nursery rhymes wasn’t on my priority list. I truly had to be taught how to be child.

Soon enough a family came that was interested in adopting me, but we quickly realized they were not the fit for me. Then a few months later, the woman I now call “Mom” came along. I had written tons of questions to ask her and later found out she did as well but was told not to ask them because they didn’t want to overwhelm me. We soon started doing visits, and after awhile, we moved into what would be the final stop on my journey towards finding a happy family.

Tubing on vacation in New York, 2008.

Tubing on vacation in New York, 2008.

This journey had ended and my new life began. I soon started at a school where I made friends and adjusted to a daily routine. Now, I am a blossoming woman who has many plans for her future, when before, I couldn’t see past getting through the next two hours. I make honor roll, and I began playing tennis for my school three years ago (this past year, I was elected captain). For the past two years, I’ve been volunteering at a local veterinarian’s office.

So far, I love all that I have been able to accomplish, and I hope to accomplish so much more. If I stay on the path I’m on, I could achieve my current goals: pass my driving test, attend Virginia Tech, and become a veterinarian. I most likely wouldn’t have achieved any of this–or even considered going to college–if I hadn’t been adopted. Most likely, I would have dropped out of school, possibly in the same situation as my friend…pregnant by 14.

I can’t even imagine living that life now, but…it so easily could have been me. Now, I have expectations and goals for myself. I want to make a difference, and I want people to know me as Ellena, not as just anybody.

— ∮∮∮ —

November is National Adoption Awareness Month. Special thanks to Children’s Home Society of Virginia for putting us in touch with Ellena. Children’s Home Society of Virginia is a private, nonprofit 501(c)(3), non-sectarian licensed child-placing agency, and one of Virginia’s oldest adoption agencies. Since its charter by the Virginia General Assembly in 1900, CHS has been guided by the fundamental belief that every child deserves a home. In its 115 years, CHS has placed more than 13,000 children into safe, permanent families — that’s enough to fill 160 school buses! Their number is 800.247.2888.

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Ellena McConnell

After a traumatic early childhood, Ellena was placed with her forever family a week before she started 4th grade. She’s destined for great things. All she needed was a family and a chance.

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