Paige Bramlett and her son, William, will celebrate their first Christmas together this year officially as mother and son.
Bramlett, 26, adopted William, 7, on Oct. 12, 2021, after spending more than a year as his foster parent.
"We are enjoying creating our own traditions in our own little home this year," Bramlett said Thursday on "Good Morning America," as she and her son were surprised with a $10,000 Christmas gift from Five Below. "We love spending time with our family and we are excited to just be with family and create our own traditions this year for sure."
The pair first met in August 2019 when William was in kindergarten and Bramlett was hired to work as a behavioral specialist at the same elementary school she once attended in her hometown in Indiana.
The job meant spending three hours per day of one-on-one time with William, who was in the foster care system at the time.
"He was very isolated because he didn’t know coping skills, and he really struggled," said Bramlett." "Since I was one-on-one with him, a lot of our time was spent working on coping skills, behavioral skills, talking about how we behave in school, those types of things."
- 2July 27, 2021
- 3November 26, 2019
Bramlett said William at first struggled to adapt to her, but then the two developed a bond, saying, "It was a challenging time for him, but we became best friends very quickly."
"I saw a lot of the potential in him. He’s very artistic and creative, and his imagination is insane," added Bramlett. "No one took the time to get to know him or to see him for the child that he was."
"I would get down on his level and make eye contact, and I don’t know how many people had done that before," she said. "When I would say goodbye, I would tell him that I would see him tomorrow. He struggled with sleeping and nightmares, so I would tell him sweet dreams, and we worked on skills that would go beyond the classroom."
The bond deepened for Bramlett after William didn't show up to school one day. He had been put into an emergency placement due to disruptions in his then-foster home, according to Bramlett.
When William returned to school, Bramlett said she began riding the school bus home with him as support.
"He was very scared about where the bus would drop him off," she said. "That was really the start of it, on the bus rides home, because I thought, who is he going to be with? Where is he going to go? What can I do to help?"
Bramlett began talking with friends she knew who were foster parents and sought advice from a friend who worked as an adoption case worker.
Bramlett said she stopped working at the school in December 2019, at the end of the fall semester, but continued building a relationship with William. She became licensed as a foster parent in Indiana and held routine outings with William, like having him for dinner every other night.
Several weeks later, in January 2020, Bramlett said she became William's full-time foster parent.
Julie Hirtzel, who served as William's court-appointed special advocate since 2017, said Bramlett provided the "structure" and consistency William needed.
"William had his struggles, but Paige was the first home that William was in where there was constant structure and a sense of 'I’m not going to give up on you,'" Hirtzel said. "She’s done a super job of making sure that William gets what he needs. She does what every parent would do for their child."
Bramlett took on the responsibility of being a foster parent just weeks after her 24th birthday -- and as a single parent.
"It is extremely hard being a single parent, but then you add on being a single parent to a child with trauma," said Bramlett, who began sharing her story on Instagram, where she said she found a community with other single foster parents.
"There are so many single foster care moms I was unaware of until I shared our story," she said. "You feel alone, but I also feel like I have a really good support system."
In October, Bramlett was able to formally adopt William, who went through at least six foster care homes before finding his forever home with Bramlett, according to Hirtzel.
"Those two are special," Hirtzel said. "This is probably one of the happier cases that I’ve had a chance to work on. It’s pretty amazing."
Bramlett said it has been a special time for her family, one that has come with bumps in the road as well, as Bramlett adjusts to being a mom and William settles in.
"It was hard to get his head wrapped around feeling secure, that he won’t have more changes," Bramlett said. "When I think about it, the permanency was so needed. That’s what he was longing for, and I feel like he feels safe."
Describing her own transition of becoming a mom of a 7-year-old, she said, "It’s sometimes hard for me to say out loud, like, oh my gosh, I’m a mom. But I'm so thankful for what I’ve been given and for how I’ve become a mom. You don’t expect it to happen so early, but I know it’s how I was chosen to be a mom."
Bramlett and William are now starting their new life in a new home and with a new puppy, an early Christmas present for William.
"It has definitely been a crazy ride but I think it’s just now getting started," Bramlett said. "This is just the beginning."