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Two sisters, one teacher, and a family with love to spare

Danita Brewster laughed as she pulls out a video of a choreographed routine her adopted daughters Ty-Janee, 12, and Que-Mya, 11, have to learn as her biological son, Arthur James Brewster III, made brownies in the kitchen at their home in Boston.
Danita Brewster laughed as she pulls out a video of a choreographed routine her adopted daughters Ty-Janee, 12, and Que-Mya, 11, have to learn as her biological son, Arthur James Brewster III, made brownies in the kitchen at their home in Boston. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

For two years, the little girl kept showing up. Wherever Danita Brewster went in the Mattapan elementary school — first as a teacher, then assistant principal — Ty-Janee Hamilton had a way of finding her before the bell rang, looking to get her hair braided, looking to talk.

In all that time, Brewster learned that the child was good with numbers, loved to read, and brimmed with affection for her younger sister, Que’Mya. But Ty never shared one thing. She and her sister had shuffled through nine different foster homes in eight years.

And then “Ms. Brewster” — who was glamorous, no-nonsense, most of all kind, the sort of teacher 9-year-old Ty always wished she’d had — transferred to a different school, and that was the last they saw of each other.

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Until Brewster opened the paper on a snowbound morning last February and recognized 11-year-old Ty smiling back from the photo beneath the Sunday’s Child adoption column in the Globe, a nurturing arm slung around the shoulder of 10-year-old sister Mya.

Every week, Brewster and her husband, Arthur — a Boston police detective who grew up in the projects and ached for every hard-luck kid he encountered — had the same ritual, going back to when their own three children were little. They would stare into the photos and read the bios and say with full eyes, throat catching, that they should adopt this child. Then the next Sunday, they would do it again, and somehow 20 years had passed.

Not this time. “Arthur!” she called out to her husband, just in from shoveling the walk to their Dorchester colonial. “I know these girls!”

They looked at each other and knew that they would act, the two of them now in their early 50s, with energy and a little money and room in their house. They phoned the state and enrolled in the necessary classes and made plans to attend an upcoming meet-and-greet, where a roomful of children, foster parents, social workers, and people mulling adoption could mingle amid the clowns and jelly bean streetscape at Jordan’s Furniture in Reading.

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They planned to casually find the girls and their foster parents in the room, and see, no pressure, if they might have chemistry. But they had barely reached the check-in table when Arthur heard a child’s voice call out to his wife from the crowd. “Ms. Brewster! Ms. Brewster! What are you doing here?”

Ty had been in the system long enough that she already knew the answer: Either Ms. Brewster had come with a foster child, or she had come because she might want to adopt — and, well, she didn’t appear to have any foster children with her.

Ty and Mya tried to keep their joy in check, but it was impossible. Still, they had been hoping for adoption for so long they assumed the Brewsters must be there to meet with other children, too.

After all, they had passed through so many homes before they found stability with foster parents Charles and Donna Merricks, who had taken in more than 50 children over 25 years in their Hyde Park bungalow, seeing them all through to adoption or reunion with their biological families, adopting three themselves.

The Merrickses were in their 60s and winding down from fostering; they told the state they were too old to adopt Ty and Mya but would nurture the girls as long as it took, praying with them each night “that you’ll get a really good family, someone that’s going to take care of you and love you just like we do.”

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Five years had passed, and still they kept praying.

That day, the Brewsters explained they weren’t there to meet any other children. “I’m going to tell you the reason why we’re really here,” Danita Brewster recalled telling them. “We came to meet you guys and talk to people and just see if there was a connection, just—”

Ty jumped in now, finishing the story. “And there was a straight connection!”

That was early March. Already, that first conversation feels like a lifetime ago — Arthur and the girls hitting it off the moment they discovered they loved the same ice cream place, Ron’s in Hyde Park. Then there was the dinner that followed, when the girls came over with their social worker.

“It was awesome. We had spaghetti,” Ty said. “And then Mom makes this oil that’s really good.”

Arthur Brewster hugged his adopted daughter Ty-Janee Brewster, 12, as she returns home from school to her home.
Arthur Brewster hugged his adopted daughter Ty-Janee Brewster, 12, as she returns home from school to her home. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Mom — Danita, Ms. Brewster — smiled. “Olive oil and seasoning,” she added, sitting between the girls at the same high-top dining room table, strewn now with homework instead of Italian food.

“Yeah, herbs,” Ty said, the dish today a favorite. “With the bread it’s just really awesome. The best thing ever.”

The spring was a joyful blur: the trip to the aquarium and Pizzeria Regina, the sleepovers, the weekend gatherings when all of the Brewsters’ extended family would pile into the four-bedroom house for laughter and music and food. The girls never knew anyone could have so many relatives, let alone so many who liked to hug.

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“We weren’t uncomfortable,” Ty said. “We love hugs!”

The Brewsters and Merrickses and the state agreed the girls would move in June 26, with Danita Brewster, a self-described “beast on the paperwork,” making sure everything was lined up. The couple’s grown children, A.J., 20, and Che, 25 — a counselor at The Home for Little Wanderers, who wanted to make sure her parents knew what they were getting into — still lived at home. But there was an empty bedroom that had belonged to 28-year-old Aja, now working in real estate in New York.

Arthur took the girls to the store to pick paint colors, and they helped as he covered the long bedroom in a deep violet, splitting it down the middle with stripes of white and mint green.

But as the move-in date neared, the normally bubbly girls grew anxious. They worried there would be a lot of rules. They worried about losing touch with the Merrickses. They worried about feeling like sort-of members of their new family. They worried this was all too good to be true.

“They kept thinking, ‘Something’s going to go wrong,’ ” Danita Brewster said. “We had a lot of those talks.”

Arthur Brewster let them in on a secret: He and Danita were nervous, too, but they would learn along the way. The Brewsters assured them this was real and told them the Merrickses would always be there, too, as “Nana and Papa.”

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Arthur, who loves the Patriots, explained that his philosophy for life and home was Bill Belichick’s mantra — “Do Your Job,” a line so familiar now that he and the girls take turns saying the three words, amid laughter.

He explained last spring that their job was to be young ladies, to learn as much as they could in school, to be kind and polite and do their chores and especially trust that he and Danita would do their jobs, to keep them safe and love them.

And that’s what they’ve been doing, through summer barbecues and birthday parties and back-to-school planning, all of them blending into one family — Ty and Mya becoming Brewsters, and Arthur and Danita striking the word “adopted” from their vocabulary, marveling at these daughters who are sweet and funny, who hunger for new experiences and tear through books, Mya trying to solve mysteries and Ty favoring biographies of people who overcame struggles.

Sometimes, the girls would get sad or angry, thinking about their biological parents, about whom they remembered nothing. Arthur Brewster, who had witnessed so much addiction and suffering and bad luck in his police work, said they had every right to be angry, but asked them to try to be understanding, too.

Mostly, though, they have been pinching themselves. One afternoon this fall, Danita Brewster was driving home from school when she heard Ty tell Mya she had found a poem for her. Ty had remembered how much Mya loved learning a Robert Frost poem (“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”) the year before; she had been flipping ahead in her own language arts textbook when she discovered another Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” In the backseat, she read it to her sister.

At the dining table now, Danita Brewster marveled about how she felt in that moment — “these two, talking about literature, and I’m going, ‘How did I get so lucky?’ ” — while the fifth- and seventh-grader again traded fragments of remembered poems.

“Something about a yellow wood? Two chickens?” Ty asked, blending verses by Frost and William Carlos Williams.

Mya knew exactly what her older sister meant, picking up with the final, haiku-like lines of Williams: “A red wheel / barrow / glazed with rain / water / beside the white / chickens.”

Danita Brewster left the Mattahunt two years ago to become assistant principal of West Roxbury’s Kilmer K-8 School, and this fall the girls joined her at the new school. Last Friday, she and Arthur pulled them from school for the day and went to Suffolk Probate and Family Court to make everything official, the older siblings there, too. They were supposed to wait six months from move-in, but the Department of Children and Families and the court sensed a good thing and let it happen on National Adoption Day.

“I was like jumping out of my mind the whole week . . . and then the day came and my heart started racing,” Ty said, swinging her arms as she reenacted the courtroom scene. “We went up to the judge, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,’ and then she banged the mallet” — “a hammer?” her younger sister suggested; “a gavel,” their mother offered — “and I was like, ‘Yay! Oh my god! I’m a Brewster!’ ”

And so they were all Brewsters on Wednesday as they prepared to drive to Washington, D.C., for the holiday, planning to take the girls to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the Capitol and spend Thanksgiving with relatives. Picturing the road trip, Arthur Brewster considered a familiar phrase that he thought he had long ago heard for the last time, and that he never imagined he would be so grateful to hear again.

“Daddy, are we there yet?”

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at eric.moskowitz@globe.com.