Single mom says adopting a teenager 'is hard, but it's worth it'

By Greg Miller

Youth age 13 and up are among those in the greatest need of foster parents and of being adopted, according to Madonna Carlson, who recently adopted a 15-year-old.
   "These kids are out there, and they have no home," she said. "When they turn 18, they will age out of the system, out of the foster home or wherever they're at. There's a child there that's going to turn 18, that's going to be out there by themselves. They're going to get the flu, and they're not going to have anybody to bring chicken noodle soup to them. They're not going to have any place to go for Christmas or no medical insurance.
   "They're not going to have anything out there. They are going to be stuck out there, and they are going to be at high risk of ending up in our prisons, because they're not going to have any guidance going on in their lives.
   "Yes, it is harder. Yes, they are teenagers. Yes, they've already got their personality developed. Their morals and values did not come from the morals and values you learn within your own family. They came from whatever they've been through."
   Adopting a teenager, "is hard, but it's worth it," Madonna said. "These are the kids that need to be adopted."
   Madonna was 29 years old when she first thought of adopting a child. "I couldn't have any more birth children," she said. "I wanted to adopt a child, but with my career and being single, I chose to wait until the time I could cut back on work and give time to a child."
   Madonna was eating lunch with some Department of Children's Services workers, talking about starting an adoption support group, and a DCS supervisor told her about Ryleigh.
   Madonna's first impression of Ryleigh "was how shy she was. She was shy and scared but funny, so she was just this little girl. That was seven months ago, and she has now turned 15, but at that moment she was a little girl looking for a mamma. My first impression was, 'Here's my little girl.'"
   Ryleigh says she has matured since being adopted by Madonna, who chose Christian Children's Homes of Tennessee to go through the adoption process. "She's taught me a lot of things, like how to be a lady and have good manners," Ryleigh remarked. "Now that's what I do, be a lady and have good manners."
   "We hit it off really good, but we were both really walking around on egg shells, trying to make each other happy," Madonna recalled.
   Madonna recalls an incident involving oatmeal. "Ryleigh loves oatmeal," she said. "I don't eat oatmeal, and I had this thing of oatmeal in the cupboard. It was old and I didn't know it. She was eating it without telling me that it was old.
   "Finally, she says, 'I don't want to hurt your feelings, but this don't taste good.' That kind of broke it for us, and that was a couple of days after she got there."
   Madonna says she thinks she and Ryleigh have a good relationship. "There's no cure for being a teenager," observed Madonna. She said that Ryleigh has learned that mothers and their teenage daughters argue. "That's just part of life," Madonna said. "I'm trying to impress on her that we can argue and we can be mad at each other. She's still my daughter. I'm still going to love her, and she's not going anywhere."
   Ryleigh says she wants to become a veterinarian. "I have seven dogs and two hamsters," she said. "I'm about to have nine dogs and a cat."
   "When she first came into the home, she wanted to be an FBI agent," Madonna recalled. "Now she's leaning towards being a veterinarian. She might change her mind again in a month. That's okay. She's in a stable place now, where she wasn't before. She can have her dreams, and there's a chance that we can follow through with them."
   One of Ryleigh's dreams is to "get married and have five kids. I'm going to have two kids and adopt three."
   Ryleigh, who attended Keenburg Elementary School, will be a sophomore at Elizabethton High School.
   Madonna has two grown sons, Sean Marricle, 24, Lubbock, Texas, and James Marricle, 23, St. Paul, Minn.
   A former marketing manager for a large home improvement company, Madonna is starting a home-based woodworking shop in the Biltmore community.