Jacky and Michelle Wood just adopted Raquel, Raysen, Brody and Braylee on Friday, but the bunch, in addition to the two kids the couple already had, were a close-knit family even before the adoption papers were signed.
Throughout a news conference Raquel played with her two new younger brothers, Raysen and Brody, giving each other high-fives, twinkling her fingers in front of their faces and giving them dollar bills to fold and crinkle.
"It wasn't hard. After a couple days we were already mom, dad, sister and brother," said Raquel, 15.
The Wood family finalized and celebrated the four adoptions Friday afternoon at the Juvenile Justice Center as part of Kern County's participation in the 10th annual National Adoption Day.
The idea behind the day is to raise awareness of the constant need for families to provide foster care and adopt children in Kern County, said Antanette Reed, assistant director of child protective services. There are more than 3,200 children in foster care in Kern County.
On Friday, 43 public adoptions and 16 private adoptions were finalized.
"Today helps to remind us why we work so hard every day," Reed said.
Jim Luff, president of Children's Advocates Resource Endowment, said it was apt Adoption Day takes place a week before Thanksgiving. When he was preparing to speak Friday, he thought about how important it is for him to have his adult children come home for Thanksgiving and how now these families will be able to have that experience.
"They have families to call their own for the rest of their lives," Luff said. "That's what I call Thanksgiving."
Judge John Brownlee was adopted 50 years ago. He considers that day the luckiest of his life, he said.
"I literally get on my knees and thank God for that event," he said.
Adoptions, by law, are normally closed events, said Judge Jon Stuebbe, who presided over the adoptions Friday. But the Woods agreed to let people watch their adoption as part of the Adoption Day celebration.
The family dressed in all white. In addition to the eight Woods, the family had a contingent of close family and friends watching the proceedings. When Stuebbe declared the adoptions finalized, the group erupted in applause.
Michelle Wood handed gifts to each of her four new children. Raysen, Brody and Braylee each got blocks with their names, dates of birth, weight at birth and Friday's date, the day they were united as a family. Raquel received a promise ring to symbolize Michelle and Jacky's promise to always be Raquel's family.
"I promise to love you forever and ever," Michelle Wood told Raquel, both tearing up, as she gave her the ring.
When Jacky and Michelle Wood married they each already had a child. Michelle had adopted her nephew, Bryson, and Jacky had a daughter, Breanna, from a previous marriage. They wanted to have more children together, but were having difficulty conceiving. Scientific solutions were never an option for them, Michelle Wood said.
"Why go the scientific route when we can help other little kids out?" she said.
About a year and a half ago, they started out as foster parents. They got Raquel and Braylee, a 1-year-old with cerebral palsy. They planned to stop there, but then found out Braylee's brothers, Raysen, 3, and Brody, 2, were also up for adoption.
"We couldn't turn down her brothers," Michelle Wood said.
Raquel had bounced around foster care since she was 11, she said. When she went to live with the Woods, she was excited to be someplace new, she said, but never thought it would end in adoption. Being with the Woods was comforting, she said, because everyone acted alike and was treated equally.
After the adoption, Raquel was bubbly. The whole family was headed to Chuck E. Cheese to celebrate.
When asked if she's ever going to take her promise ring off, Raquel replied, "If it goes with what I'm wearing, then yeah, I'll wear it."