FARMINGTON — Nervous but also excited, 14-year-old Mariah Olivas walked close to her brother down the hallway of the Farmington Municipal Court, around a corner and into a glossy wooden room.
A group of children, an attorney, and Renee and Rodney Hutchens surrounded her.
"I'm a little scared," she said.
After more than 20 foster families and three failed adoptions, Mariah had given up hope that she'd ever find a family. But on Nov. 19 -- her day in court -- would be different.
Mariah met the Hutchens in October 2012, when her current foster family dropped her off in Aztec for the weekend. She arrived wearing a polo shirt that stretched to her calves, and she was angry.
"Oh my gosh," Renee Hutchens said, "I can't even explain how grouchy her face was." And she said she wondered, "What have I got myself into?"
Mariah had cause to be angry, she said. Her foster home then was a Durango family that liked "modern" things, like 20-mile mountain bike rides, rock climbing and "the outdoors." Every night, they insisted on sit-down dinners, iceberg-lettuce salads and all. They enrolled her in private school, too.
She didn't fit in.
But the morning after she met the Hutchens, their kids were wrestling in the living room. The Hutchens had 11 kids, six blood-related, one adopted and four fostered. Mariah jumped right into the clamoring mix. Hutchens said the girl's eyes were beaming with happiness.
After the weekend ended, the Durango family returned for Mariah.
But she was back with the Hutchens the following weekend.
Eventually, officials from the state's Children, Youth and Families Department asked the Hutchens if they would foster Mariah.
The Durango family told department officials they wanted Mariah to wait two weeks to think it over, Renee said. But Mariah said no. She didn't need to make up her mind. She didn't need to say goodbye. She moved right in.
"Mr. and Mrs. Hutchens, do you think you need any more time?" Attorney Patricia Simpson asked the two parents seated in the courtroom at a wooden table earlier this month. Mariah sat between them.
Both parents shook their heads.
"I don't know what we'd do without her," Rodney Hutchens said.
The questioning began.
Simpson asked about their marriage, if Mariah had bonded with the family, if they understand that once the papers are signed there's no going back, and if they are really ready to adopt this girl.
"Yes," both parents said, each in their turn.
Now the attorney turned the questions to Mariah.
"Do you agree," Simpson said, "them being allowed to adopt you is under your best interest?"
Department officials said Mariah's biological mother's mind is drug addled. Her dad died recently after a car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. And they said Mariah has been separated from her five brothers because, as a group, they sabotaged so many potential adoptions.
So Mariah began to lose hope.
Her 11-year-old brother was adopted in 2012. Her 16-year-old brother was adopted in May. Her other brothers were adopted years ago. She was the only one left.
Finally, she lost hope.
Even after she had lived as a foster child with the Hutchens and all their children for 14 months, Mariah still believed that she would never find a mom, a dad, a family.
Renee Hutchens knew they would adopt her. Rodney Hutchens knew. They family knew. They'd adopted before; they'd do it again. But Mariah couldn't accept the possibility.
"It feels awful," Renee Hutchens said, "especially after we've had them long enough for them to start talking about adoptions."
A week before her court date, Mariah slammed the car door on Renee Hutchens outside her school. Mariah said, "This is never going to happen."
A bench full of children sat in the far corner of the courtroom watching the attorney question their parents and soon-to-be sister. One girl cleaned her white and purple painted nails. Another girl licked the screen of her phone.
Does Mariah think the Hutchens adopting her is in her best interest?
"Yes," Mariah said.
The attorney asked if she was happy with them.
Mariah said, "Yes."
The attorney explained that once the adoptions papers are signed, there's no going back. She told Mariah there would be no running to the department in a fit of anger asking for new parents.
Mariah said she knows.
At the head of the room, Judge Sandra Price spoke. She asked Mariah what last name she would take. There are a few choices, the judge explained. Mariah could take the Hutchens' last name, she said, or she could hyphenate the two names.
Five minutes later, the entire family stood chatting together in the court's foyer.
"It is permanent now. She's ours," said Renee Hutchens. "We knew that she was ours when she came to stay with us the first day."
Next to her mom stood Mariah, who had chosen "Olivas-Hutchens."