The first time Nanci Weinstein and Heather Bone met in July 2014, neither of them expected the meeting to go well.
Weinstein and her husband, David, were the court-appointed foster parents for Bone’s daughter, Kristina, who had been removed from her custody shortly after birth when the newborn tested positive for methamphetamine.
Bone, then 30 and a longtime drug addict, was angry that her child had been taken away and given to strangers, so Weinstein expected tension at their first supervised meeting at a McDonald’s in Vista.
What she didn’t know was that Bone and her husband, Andy Tarnovsky, were secretly planning to snatch Kristina from her arms and go on the run.
“But the more we got to know her, the more we realized we couldn’t do something like that to this woman,” Bone said. “She was too nice.”
That was the beginning of an unlikely friendship that Bone describes today as the most important in her life. Weinstein has become her best friend, a mother figure, a fellow mommy confidante and the one person she trusts most for advice. She also credits Weinstein with giving her the tough love she needed in 2015 to get sober and get her daughter back.
“I heard horror stories about foster parents so I felt extremely blessed to end up with Nanci,” she said. “If it had been anyone else, I don’t think I’d be here today because I wouldn’t have survived the path I was on. We were brought together for a reason.”
The Weinsteins, who live with their children in Encinitas, have served since 2013 as foster parents with the Angel Foster Family Network.
Weinstein, 43, said surrendering Kristina to her birth parents after 14 months was “the happiest day and most devastating day all at the same time.”
She was happy for the young family’s reunification but sad that they were moving that week to Brookshire, Texas, where Bone and Tarnovsky now live with Kristina, 4, and younger daughter Emma, 3.
“I really miss them,” said Weinstein, who still speaks by phone with Bone at least once a week and has twice vacationed with the family in Texas. “I adore and love Andy and Heather. They’re doing the best they can with their daughter and I really respect that.”
Jeff Wiemann, executive director of Angel Foster Family Network, said relationships between birth and foster parents can easily become oppositional and that causes stress for the children caught in the middle. An important tool he teaches foster parents is to create a relationship of mutual respect with birth parents by practicing “nonjudgmental compassion.”
“Heather and Nanci’s story is inspiring because both the foster and biological mother were committed to doing what was best for Kristina,” Wiemann said. “When you have two moms who see their work as a partnership, it’s the children who benefit.”
Weinstein, who works from home as a travel agent with Moments of Magic Travel specializing in Disney destinations, said she has always felt a calling to help children in need. In 1975, her parents adopted her through a private agency when she was 2 months old.
Weinstein said she and her husband first considered adopting a child between the births of their daughters Grace, now 15, and Rebecca, 11. Then after moving to North County six years ago, the subject came up again and they decided fostering was a better choice.
“We can touch so many more lives by doing this than adopting one child,” she said. “We went to the orientation and heard about the great need in San Diego County for homes to nurture and love these children. How can I say no? Once you know there’s a great need, it’s hard to walk away.”
Their first foster child in 2013 was a 7-month-old boy who reunified with his family after eight weeks. Kristina was their second. Their third is a boy who arrived as a newborn three years ago. His mother remains an active drug user so the Weinsteins are adopting him.
Having been through this most recent experience, Weinstein said she now appreciates even more how hard Bone worked to reclaim her daughter.
Bone grew up in New Jersey where she had a difficult childhood and started abusing drugs in her early 20s.
“I guess I’ve struggled with addiction on and off for 13 years,” she said. “It wasn’t always the same drug. I’d put one down and pick up another.”
She became so expert in hiding her drug use that Tarnovsky, who she’s been with for nine years, never knew she was on meth until Kristina tested positive.
Bone said losing custody of her daughter sent her even deeper into her addiction and over the next several months her health and weight plummeted.
“I felt guilty and was coming to a point where I thought she was better off with Nanci than with me,” Bone said. “I was giving up on myself majorly. I didn’t want to live.”
Then Kristina was diagnosed with a rare condition called craniosynostosis, where the usually flexible bone plates of her skull fused prematurely, preventing brain growth. She would need several major surgeries and Bone and Tarnovsky leaned heavily on Weinstein to support and advocate for them through the process.
“It was tough but Nanci was so supportive through it all,” Bone said. “I can’t put into words how much I admire her. I think she reminded me a lot of myself if I hadn’t ended up such a mess.”
Weinstein said the couple never missed a single doctor’s appointment and over the course of 14 months only canceled or rescheduled three supervised visits. She was impressed with their devotion to Kristina, but frustrated that Bone was still using meth. Finally, she confronted Bone in one of their McDonald’s meetings.
“I told her, ‘your daughter has to have this surgery and you haven’t made any changes. They’re going to put your child up for adoption if you don’t make a choice,’ ” Weinstein said. “I said, ‘you’re so involved in her life and you’re under the influence of drugs. Imagine what you could do off drugs? You’d be unstoppable.’ ”
Bone said Weinstein’s words were tough to hear but delivered with love.
“She told me ‘It’s very obvious you love your daughter … but you’re not ready to get your act together. You are worth it. You do deserve better,’ ” Bone said. “Other people told me this many times but it never meant anything from anybody else.”
By the time Kristina had her first surgery in January 2015, Bone was in rehab and has been sober ever since. Staying clean hasn’t been as tough as she expected because her daughters give her a reason to survive.
“I have to take care of them,” she said. “I know what happens if I go down that road again. I’ve been down it so many times for so long and I can’t do it anymore.”
--Pam Kragen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune