Two years ago, Wanda Muhammad and her husband, Alec, were preparing for life as empty nesters. • The youngest of their six children were about to graduate high school, and three had already moved out of the house. • Muhammad, 46, was going back to school to prepare for a career as a social worker. But when she and her husband welcomed their two young godsons into their home after their mother could no longer take care of them, they said goodbye to the post-children lifestyle. • They found themselves doing something they never thought they'd have to do again: potty training. • In May, the Muhammads learned the boys' mother would not be regaining custody of them. So, they sat down with their large family and discussed what would be done. • In early December, the adoptions were finalized.
"It was really a long journey," Muhammad said. "We are really thankful and blessed to still see the light."
Khalid, 8, and Yusaf, 3, call her and her husband "mommy" and "daddy," Muhammad said. Their new siblings help them with their homework.
"I just look at the beauty of it," she said. "We gave these children hope for life."
But it wasn't easy.
The past two years have been full of court hearings and meetings with social workers. Their mother was charged with child neglect, Muhammad said, so both boys had some trust issues at first. The fact that she was their godmother and had known them all their life helped them adjust.
"We made sure they got hugs and we loved them," Muhammad said. "We always talked about their mother and told them she was not a bad person."
Khalid loves baseball and reading, and says he wants to be a fireman. Yusaf loves all sports and is constantly singing. The only complaint the boys have is that they have to eat healthy, Muhammad said, chuckling.
But taking on two young children, in addition to helping their other kids pay for college, has left them financially strapped, she said.
Alec works nights as a line cook at the Embassy Suites near Busch Gardens. Wanda has been working part-time as a ride operator at Busch Gardens while studying at Hillsborough Community College. She has one class left to take, and then plans to go on to get her bachelor's degree in social work.
She missed a lot of work in the past two years because of all the hearings and meetings and is lucky to still have a job at all, she said.
Because they weren't relatives of the boys when they took them in, the Muhammad's didn't qualify for financial aid from the state. Diapers and day care are expensive, she said.
"Even right now I'm like, 'How did we do it?' " Wanda said. "It had to be God."
They promised the boys that after the adoptions were finalized, they would take them to Disney World, Wanda said. And true to the nature of an 8-year-old, Khalid hasn't forgotten.
But car trouble and a lack of funds have prevented them so far, Wanda said, a fact which has been bothering her for weeks.
"I like to keep my word, especially with children," she said. "It really helps to get their trust, get their obedience. So if I say something, I like to make it happen."