Lelaina Silvester knew she’d be separated from her mother as soon as they heard the “cop-knock” at the door, right in the middle of watching “The Little Mermaid.” Recognizing the police was just one of her tasks as a 4-year-old.
Her mother was steeped in drug abuse when Child Protective Services took Lelaina into foster care. She went through five foster homes before returning to her mother, now living in a halfway house. In rehab, Lelaina’s mother met Joe, who would become Lelaina’s father in all but the biological sense of the term.
Her mother started using again, leaving Lelaina to care for her new half-sister. Their mother deteriorated, and Lelaina missed sixth and seventh grade taking care of her family. Every day she would bring breakfast to her mother in bed, and find it untouched hours later. Joe later won custody of his daughter and Lelaina. One year into the new arrangement, Lelaina’s mother had another child.
“That baby is still out there,” Lelaina said in a recent interview over frappés at McDonald’s. “I tried to look.”
Two years in Joe’s custody, Lelaina, at 13, saw her mother for the last time, in the hospital. “I promised I’d live my life for her, and make her proud.”
Lelaina’s mother passed away shortly after. Joe and the girls drove from Verona Beach, CA, to South Riding where Lelaina started high school at Freedom as a freshman.
“I still look up to her in some ways. She is still my mother,” Lelaina said. “I want to be all the good parts of my mom.”
Lelaina has lived up to her promise. She’ll be attending Virginia Commonwealth University this fall, where she wants to study social work. Lelaina is the first in her family to go to college.