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Mom's pride: 25 years after his bleak beginning, adopted crack baby earns law degree
Parents' love proves ultimate cure
The kid came into this world with two strikes against him. Then he hit a home run. Ila Pawley became his mom.
"I got lucky. So lucky," D.D. Pawley said Friday as he slipped on his cap and gown. "If it wasn't for her love and all the sacrifices she made for me, I wouldn't be standing here today."
A young man with a bright future, getting his law degree from the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University and starting his career in a few weeks as a deputy district attorney in Sacramento.
Not bad for a kid who came into this world 25 years ago as a drug-addicted, African-American baby found abandoned outside a Los Angeles hospital.
D.D. – Dale David – was 3 days old and weighed just 4 pounds when LosAngeles County adoption workers called the Pawleys and asked the middle-aged white couple living in Arleta if they had room for one more.
They had already adopted and raised three children of mixed races, in addition to three children of their own. But, sure, they had room for one more, Ila Pawley told the county.
This one would be the toughest, the doctors warned her.
Because of the drugs in his system at birth, he would be slow. His motor-control skills would be poor, and he would be mentally delayed. 
Pawley smiled and told the doctors to let her worry about that.
She had plans for this abandoned baby, and they all called for a lot of love and hard work.
That's what she told me back in 1998 when we stood watching her "slow" son, D.D., walk on stage to give the valedictorian speech at Osborne Christian School in Arleta as he graduated with a 3.97 grade-point average.
And that's what she told me again Friday as she watched D.D. put on his cap and gown and get ready to graduate from law school.  
Pawley won't forget those first nights looking down in the crib and seeing D.D. crying and squirming, curled up tightly in a fetal position.
Or the hours she massaged his body to relax his muscles and uncurl him.
Or the nights she and her husband, Dale, didn't sleep because D.D. didn't sleep.
"We'd hold D.D. all night, hold him on our chests so he could hear our heartbeats," she said.
"Nobody really knew diddly about drug-addicted babies back then. He should have been in the hospital during those withdrawals, but he wasn't.
"Dale and I read everything we could get our hands on and even went up to Stanford University to talk to doctors working with drug babies up there," Ila Pawley said.
"You know what turned out to work best? Normal parenting. Love, hugging, caring, teaching.
"We started him with words and listening to classical music. We showed him colors – Legos, blocks, anything that would stimulate him. Everything but television.
"By the time D.D. started kindergarten, he could already read," she said. "He still had a sleep disorder and some motor-skill problems, but academically he was excelling."
Ila Pawley's plans for the most challenging child she would raise were working.
All it was taking was a lot of love and a ton of hard work.
She can't even imagine life without this boy, Pawley said Friday, getting ready to go to the graduation ceremony with her husband and a couple of their older children who were able to get off work to travel to Arizona with them.
They all turned out great – all 11 children she and Dale adopted, and the three they had themselves in what Ila calls "the first batch."
"They've all stayed in touch with each other," she said. "The first batch loves the second batch. Everybody's doing fine."
The love this woman gave him, well, he's almost taken that for granted by now, D.D. said. He never lived a day under her roof when he didn't feel it.
The hard work, though, that's what really gets to him now that he's married and a dad with two babies of his own.
"I think back on how tough it must have been for her to be raising all my brothers and sisters, and then have this sick little crack baby come into her life," D.D. said.
"She was willing to sacrifice so much for me.
"I know I've gotten my perseverance and resolve from her. She taught me you only lose if you quit and give up, and that's something I would never do.
"She's my rock, and I love her."
With that, the kid who came into this world a crack baby with two strikes against him gave his mother a hug and kiss before walking off to receive his degree from the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law.
Leaving his mom standing there with tears in her eyes, and chills.

Dennis McCarthy
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Dennis McCarthy, Columnist
LA Daily News