Traci and Talynn

Traci Luicen, 51, adopted her daughter, Talynn, 9, out of foster care two years ago. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun / April 17, 2012)

The mother and daughter relax on a cushy sofa, laughing quietly as they speak of their unusual yet utterly normal life together.

"Sometimes I get a little frustrated [with you], don't I, Talynn?" the mom asks.

"Yes, but we always work it out," the 9-year-old replies, leaping onto Traci Lucien and applying a huge hug.

"Nobody's taking my Mommy. She's tooken. We're together forever!" Talynn exclaims.

It's an especially tender moment, considering the two met just two years ago. That was when Lucien, a single professional who was then 49, adopted Talynn (pronounced Tay-LINN) from a foster care setting. The move has inspired many who have heard about them — including the editors at O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine, who are featuring the Luciens in a story in the May issue, now on newsstands.

"[Traci's] story touches on so many themes that fascinate our readers — motherhood, single parenthood, balancing life and career, aging well," says Meredith Bryan, a senior editor at O. "She defies so many stereotypes, and she has made it work. She's proof that women can do amazing things at any age."

The one-page feature, complete with color photo, is part of "How to Change Your Life at Any Age," a six-story package within the magazine's annual issue on aging.

Writers from across the country presented editors with potential subjects for the package. Lucien came across as such a strong personality and a powerful role model, Bryan says, that the staff, including Winfrey and editor-at-large Gayle King, agreed from their earliest meetings to include her.

Lucien's own story began across the continent 51 years ago. She grew up in Orange County, Calif., the eldest of three children in a close-knit family. A hard-working student who loved writing, she majored in English in college, eventually scoring a job in the publications department of AARP in Los Angeles.

The nonprofit moved her to its Washington, D.C., office, where she continued her career climb, becoming a vice president in 2004. She later bought a house in Laurel.

She thrived on the long hours, expanding duties and many travel opportunities, she says, but the notion of starting a family got left behind. By the time she was in her 40s, that bothered her.

"I always knew I had a heart to be a mother," Lucien says.

A few years later, doctors found she had a health problem; it called for an operation that would end her hopes of being a biological mom.

She grieved the loss, but not for too long.

"I decided to adopt," she says. "I knew it would be a long process, and I figured, 'My heart is in this. Why wait?'"

Three years ago, she got the journey under way.

Friends and co-workers say that when Lucien faces a new project, she starts out by educating herself thoroughly, and that's the approach she took. She immersed herself in books, articles and online material on adoption. One thing she quickly realized was that she wanted to find a child through a foster-care organization.

"There are a lot of kids — hundreds of thousands — right here in the United States who need homes," she says.

Anne Arundel County assigned her a case worker, and Lucien opened herself to scrutiny of every aspect of her life, from her family and financial status to the safety and layout of her home.

"Oh my goodness, they asked everything, including whether I was spanked as a child," she says, shaking her head.

Talynn, seated on a chair nearby, looks up from her Nintendo DS.

"I was. That surprises you, huh?" says Lucien, who adds that she's not above delivering a well-timed swat when it's called for.

While waiting for formal approval from the county, she did more research. She happened on a website for a national foster-adoption organization, AdoptUSKids.org, that gave her the chance to see photos of potential adoptees.

She kept returning to one, the picture of a smiling 7-year-old with large, welcoming eyes.

"There was something familiar in that little face," she says. She followed the company's procedures to find out more about Talynn, who lived in the Midwest.

She sent a picture and a letter of introduction, and within a few more months was on a plane for their first meeting.

When Lucien went to the building where she was to meet her future daughter, AdoptUSKids officials sat her down in an office, where she was to read up on the girl's family of origin — a subject she declines to discuss out of respect for Talynn's privacy.

After an hour or so, she couldn't stay focused. The time had come to connect in person.

"My stomach was in knots," Lucien says.

So, as it happened, was Talynn's. She had enjoyed the letter but still feared Traci would be "scary."

"What were the first words out of your mouth when you saw me, Tay?" Lucien asks.

"'Mommy, you're so pretty!'" Talynn says.

They bonded over the course of several more visits, and late in 2010, Talynn moved to Maryland.

Becoming a mother relatively late has been tricky in some ways, Lucien says. She found it harder than she expected, for example, to solve day care, transportation and baby-sitting issues within the framework of a daily life she had spent years organizing. But the networking and problem-solving skills she has developed through work have proved invaluable. She has been able to draw on fellow church members, family members and a variety of child-care services to assemble a workable schedule.

Financial stability also helps, she says, and so does the perspective that comes with age. For the first few months, Talynn did what many former foster kids do in new environments. She probed her new mother's limits, sometimes by throwing tantrums.

"She was testing me to see if I was there to stay," Lucien says.

When she was younger, she might well have overreacted, but as a seasoned adult, she realized it was important to remain firm and consistent.

"You're in a place in life where you realize everything isn't about you," she says.

If a visit to the Lucien home is any indication, the approach has been a hit.

Mother speaks to daughter with a grown-up's clarity, always leaving time for questions and observations to sink in. Talynn, polite and responsive, fusses over some of the new toys she got for her recent birthday, including an American Girl doll, but never wanders too far from her mom and hugs her freely.

"She thinks I'm a big pillow," Lucien says.

The pair made things official a year ago, finalizing Talynn's adoption during a phone call with a judge on May 12. They have identical bracelets the bear the date and are still trying to decide what to do for their one-year anniversary.

The magazine article, by writer Hollace Schmidt, appears on page 182 of O, along with a piece on a California woman who learned to surf at 55 and a Vermonter who became a firefighter at 66.

Talynn, a third-grader at Odenton Elementary, says her only disappointment in her first brush with the mass media has been not meeting Oprah personally. She enjoyed the four-hour shoot with magazine photographers, she says, and has been practicing her autograph in case she should need it.

For now, though, bedtime is drawing near, and mother tells daughter it's time to go upstairs. Even that doesn't keep the girl from saying the kinds of words any parent would love to hear.

"You're so strong and encouraging," says Talynn. "I'm proud of you. That's all I have to say. Thank you for being the best mom."

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

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