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Toddler’s Jubilant Fist Pump as He’s Adopted After 832 Days in Foster Care: ‘Mama, I Am Happy’

Updated

After 832 days in foster care with three different families, a 3-year-old Arizona boy had his biggest wish fulfilled just before Christmas and the results are going viral.

A photo on Twitter of Michael Brown triumphantly pumping his fist in the air after he was adopted by Tara Montgomery, a single mother from Peoria, Arizona, has thus far been retweeted more than 57,000 times and has received 143,000 likes.

“He’s won everyone’s hearts because he’s a good, happy kid who’s been through more than any child should have to go through,” Montgomery, 42, a high school secretary with three biological children, tells PEOPLE. “He deserves to finally have a ‘forever family.’ ”

When plans to reunite Michael with his biological mom fell through recently, Montgomery, who had been Michael’s foster parent since he was 18 months old, knew what she had to do.

“I just couldn’t bear for him to go through any more disappointments,” she says.

She filed immediately to adopt Michael, and on December 20th, her request was made legal.

Michael Brown and Tara Montgomery
Courtesy Tara Montgomery

After one of Michael’s new sisters, Dezhianna, 17, snapped a picture for Twitter of the jubilant preschooler holding a “Some Things Are Worth The Wait” sign and pumping his fist, Montgomery awoke the next morning to find her inbox deluged with happy emails.

“I had no idea this would blow up the way it did, but I’m thrilled that it happened,” she says, “because it helps prove what I’ve always believed: You don’t have to be a married couple with a big house or a big income to take in a child who needs you. You just need to love children and have a big heart.”

Montgomery certainly fits both of those requirements. Single since her husband was murdered in Seattle in 2001 by an acquaintance while their three daughters were small, she decided to become a foster parent almost three years ago to “make a difference in somebody’s life.”

“Working at a high school, I’ve seen kids who don’t have anyone,” she tells PEOPLE. “After I lost my husband, administrators started seeking me out to talk to teenagers who had lost a parent. I’ve always had a heart for kids and their circumstances. So one day, I thought, ‘I’ll become a foster parent and help as many as I’m able, one child at a time.'”

Michael Brown
Tara Montgomery

Montgomery fostered six children, with Michael being the most recent. He came into her life on Valentine’s Day 2015, when his biological mother could no longer care for him.

“He spent the first months of his life in two different homes before coming to us,” she says, “and we quickly became attached to him. When plans for his mother to adopt him didn’t go through, I talked to the other kids and we just knew: he was already part of the family. He belonged here.”

Dezhianna, Adrianna, 23, and Tianna, 16, are delighted to have a younger brother, says Montgomery, especially just in time for the holidays.

On Christmas morning, Michael was excited to find several Thomas the Tank Engine trains, a toy box and a new bicycle beneath the tree, “but most of all, he smiled because he knows he is loved and wanted and cared for,” she tells PEOPLE. “Every morning, when he comes in to wake me, he touches my heart. ‘Mama,’ he says, ‘I’m happy.'”