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Mustang Family: A True Story for the Walkers

Published Friday, July 15, 2022
L-R: Judge Dietrich, Julie, Chanelle, and Ben on adoption day.
L-R: Judge Dietrich, Julie, Chanelle, and Ben on adoption day.

Adopting a child into a family is an act of love. Stories aren’t often shared about adoption involving adults, but it wasn’t just the Mustang Family that grew by one when an adult adoption happened at SMSU. The Julie and Ben Walker family also increased by one.

Such was the situation with Julie Walker, SMSU Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, and her husband Ben, Associate Professor of Communication Studies. The two adopted an adult daughter, Chanelle, in 2018. She joins James, 9, and twins Addy and Raymie, 7, in the Walker household.

The process of that adult adoption it is the topic of a book chapter Chanelle and Julie co-authored for the book “Narrating Estrangement: Autoethnographies of Writing Of(f) Family.” The book chapter is entitled “Our Real-Life Matilda Moment: Refining and Finding Family.”

“The chapter talks about the process of adult adoption — about that process of forming and finding family together,” said Julie Walker.

The book chapter is a soul-baring journey that takes the reader from their first meeting through the adoption process. In between is chronicled the heartbreaks and joys of their journey, how their relationship grew, and the discovery of real trust and love that led the Walkers to broach the subject of adoption with Chanelle.

Their story is told through the words of both. “Our story is complex, and retelling it requires nuance a single voice cannot capture,” a footnote reads.

Sprinkled throughout the narrative are quotes from several characters in the movie “Matilda,” a favorite of both. The movie is about an intelligent young girl who has a troubled home life. She meets a caring teacher at school who eventually adopts her.

The story of Matilda parallels the way Chanelle and Julie’s relationship developed.

Chanelle met Julie when she enrolled at SMSU in 2017 and became a member of the speech team. Julie and Ben Walker are co-coaches of the team. She is an SMSU alumna, and lives in Marshall.

“My desire to protect Chanelle initially is not unlike what I do to protect all my speech team kids, or really students from across the campus. Ben and I have helped team members escape abusive relationships, offered advice about life challenges, and gone with them to seek counseling for mental health issues. I didn’t know how different my relationship with Chanelle would become, one coaching session at a time,” Julie writes in the book chapter.

Chanelle was introduced to Ben and the Walker children. She babysat for the couple. She found herself spending more and more time at their residence.

“I start spending more time with Julie. Even though I want to trust her, I don’t know if I can. … Weekend visits to the house turn into weeknight visits. She creates a makeshift room under the stairs with an air mattress, a bookshelf, and a cloud bedsheet as an outer wall,” she writes in the chapter.

And then there was that moment, Chanelle recalls. “I’m over visiting one day when she asks me to get something from the basement. I yell back, ‘Mama, where is it?’ And I freeze. I’d never called her that before. I simultaneously want her to hear it and miss it.”

When Chanelle returned to her family of origin for Christmas once, Julie wrote “I realize something I’ve known but haven’t yet articulated. Chanelle isn’t just a speech team daughter, she has become my forever daughter.”

For Ben Walker, the idea to adopt Chanelle came suddenly. “She would come over and spend time at our house.  One day I woke up and I felt like she is our daughter. I never expected that to happen,” he said.

Julie recalls the moment. “I think we should consider legally adopting Chanelle,” she remembers Ben saying. She was busy with team speech team responsibilities and his words did not register right away. “Wait, What?” she writes. “Pausing a moment, I process his idea. I know Chanelle is our daughter, she’d even started calling Ben ‘Dad,’ and he felt comfortable in the role.”

On Chanelle’s birthday, they asked her to become a Walker. During the court proceeding, Chanelle writes, “I hold my parents’ hands, speak my new name into existence, and cry when the judge speaks back that I am officially and legally a Walker.

“I’ve been adopted for over a year, and I have the best family I could ask for. I used to wish I lived in movies where hurt kids were taken in by loving, caring adults, but I don’t need to anymore. I’m beyond thankful l that I met my parents and that they chose me.”

Adopting an adult has been an adjustment, of course. “Our ‘littles’ are in elementary school and all of a sudden, we have an adult daughter who was in college. … I missed so much as far as her life — I didn’t get to see her ride a bike, wasn’t there when she fell down and cut her elbow or graduated from high school. But I’m so grateful for what we do get with her. I can’t imagine our family without her,” said Julie Walker.

 

 

Story by Jim Tate, Retired with Distinction, Director of Communications & Marketing