She wrote her name on her backpack in purple glue paint. Elizabeth Plant, it read. She also wrote it in on her school notebook, except she'd spelled it Pland — with a D instead of a T — because she was still getting used to it.
Her new adoptive parents, Josh and Aubree Plant, bought Elizabeth and her two brothers matching black backpacks for their first day of school today at Pinellas Central Elementary School. It will be the first time all three would attend the same school since being placed in different foster homes more than four years ago.
The boys drew skulls and bones with globs of glue on their backpacks.
"No one is going to have backpacks like you guys," Aubree, 28, said.
"Those things probably won't dry until Thursday," Josh, 29, said.
Elizabeth tried on her new plaid shirt, jeans and sneakers. Or should she wear the shirt with a sparkly star?
She was excited, not scared. Maybe a little nervous.
The family prepared Sunday afternoon to visit the school so Elizabeth, 10, Marvin, 8, and Christian, 7, could see it before their first day. Elizabeth wanted to find out how many other kids would be in Mrs. Redington's fifth-grade class.
She had 14 bookmarks ready to hand out to all her classmates. She wanted to make a good impression, seeing as her days of moving around had ended.
The family loaded up in the van.
Josh and Aubree met and married in college in Illinois.
The two middle school teachers moved to Pinellas Park seven years ago and bought a two-bedroom home near 94th Avenue and 58th Street. They filled the spare room with guitars and a piano. They named their cats Fender and Marley. They had two dogs. They drove a Honda Civic and a Fit.
Two years ago, the couple filled out an adoption form.
"It was something just always in my heart," Aubree said. "Because if there's a need, why not be part of the solution?"
Child Protective Services took Elizabeth and her two brothers from their biological parents after their mother was sent to prison. Both parents struggled with drug addiction, and the kids bounced around in foster homes. They sometimes returned when the parents got sober, then went back to another foster home when they slipped.
For the better part of four years, they've been separated.
"Pretty much for a long time," Elizabeth said.
A case worker with the Pinellas-Pasco Heart Gallery showed the Plants a picture of the three siblings at the beginning of the year.
The Plants' music room gained bunk beds. They turned the garage into another room. They bought a minivan.
The van parked in front of the school. Josh, Aubree and the kids piled out .
Marvin put his forehead to the window near the entrance and blocked out the sun with his hands.
"How far back does it go?" Marvin asked about the hallway, seeming a bit overwhelmed.
"Maybe they'll let us walk you to the door, or even to the class," Josh said.
Elizabeth stood on her tiptoes to look up at her class list. Aubree counted the names.
"That's a big class," she said. "Twenty-four kids."
"Oh, I don't have enough bookmarks," Elizabeth said.
Back at home she had a whole bucket of pens she'd been wrapping with ribbon and fabric flowers. Perhaps she could win over her new classmates with those, too.
Contact Weston Phippen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8321. Follow him @westonphippen.