Her dream was a typical one.
As a young girl, Shannon Buckels’ vision was to get married, have kids and live in a house enclosed by the proverbial white picket fence.
“I had never thought of living my life without kids,” said Buckels, 48, a Brea police officer for more than 17 years.
For Buckels, the dream of motherhood did, in fact, become realized, when she took home her son Roman for the first time four years ago.
But Buckels didn’t take the usual route.
Roman, now 8, was adopted by Buckels, who was, and still is, a single parent.
Being in law enforcement, Buckels acknowledged having concerns about opening her personal life to the public.
“My goal in doing this story is to reach just one person,” Buckels said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that there is one person who will read my story who has considered adopting, but has hesitated in taking that first step. If that one person changes the life of one child by giving that child a fair shot of living a happy and fulfilling life, then it’s worth it.”
Buckels became a police officer at age 32, leaving the publishing field in search of a more exciting career.
A member of the Brea Police Department the entire time, Buckels adores her job, but said it has been pretty much impossible to meet a man who can deal with a woman who wears a badge and has a gun.
“This is a stressful and demanding job, which can be hard for a spouse to support, especially a male spouse,” said Buckels, who is currently serving as a school resource officer in the Brea Olinda Unified School District. “My job has definitely stepped on the egos of several boyfriends, ending those relationships.”
By 40, Buckels saw the prospect of finding a life partner diminishing.
So, adoption became an option.
“Friends kept telling me, ‘Good things come to those who wait,’” Buckels said. “That is a load of crap. Good things don’t come to those who wait. Good things come to those who work their butts off and make things happen.”
In 2008, Buckels began taking six weeks of adoption classes through Orange County Social Services, learning all there is to know about parenting an adopted child.
As a police officer, Buckels has had to be involved in removing children from homes where there is abuse and neglect and knew there were kids right here in Orange County that needed a home.
“Calls involving kids always get to me,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking. This last call that I went on (involving a child) was so brutal and barbaric…I’ve never cried on a call but I cried so hard afterwards.”
Buckels was open to adopting a child of any race or gender, but wanted a child at least 2 years old.
“I couldn’t handle an infant as a single mom with no one to help me, working 12.5-hour patrol shifts,” she said.
Four years passed, and nothing.
In March 2013, the phone call came.
There was a Caucasian boy, about to turn 4 and with no siblings, in the system.
Foster parents were caring for the child after he had been removed from a neglectful situation in Orange County a year earlier.
Roman was 4 when meeting his new mom for the first time during a supervised visit in a park.
“Roman was adorable but had a dark demeanor about him,” said Buckels of that first meeting. “A dark cloud seemed to be hanging over his head.”
That changed when Buckels brought Roman home and the boy saw his bedroom for the first time.
“It’s like someone flipped a light switch on him,” Buckels said. “He just turned into this bright, happy child. He knew that this was his and was always going to be his.”
Roman remembers, too.
“I remember there was Lightening McQueen,” Roman said. “(And) my stuffed animal dogs and my real dogs, Jackie, Roxy and Jack.”
But there was a bit of a learning curve.
“He had to learn boundaries and rules,” Buckels said. “He was used to going to bed at 2 in the morning. So, I had to teach him, no, we are not going to bed at 2 in the morning. We are going to bed at 8:30 p.m.”
Still, the bond between mother and son was instant and only has strengthened.
“She takes pictures of me and puts them on the background of the computer,” Roman said. “We go to the river. We go really fast on the boat a lot of times. It’s fun.”
Roman is the goalkeeper on his soccer team. He plays baseball and video games. He goes on field trips and plays Nerf guns.
Buckels and Roman also visit family in Tulsa, Ok., where Buckels spent a few times a year growing up.
While she provides her son with the best life possible, not having a father in the household leaves a void, Buckels said.
So she tries to connect Roman with as many male role models as possible.
Her brother, male friends and coaches all have provided mentorship.
“But it’s not the same as having a ‘dad,’ which he never has had,” Buckels said.
But Buckels has plenty of love to give and said the joys of motherhood have been “a million times better” than she ever imagined.
“I can’t imagine loving him any more than I love him today,” she said. “But I said that yesterday and I love him more today than I did yesterday.”