|1 – Chelsea and Jose|
|2 – Isaac and Raj|
|3 – Joelle|
|4 – Abel, SueAnn, George and Florinda (Flory)|
|5 – Todd|
|6 – David|
|7 – Renee and Trish|
After six years of dating, I married my high school sweetheart in July of 1979. It had been a busy spring. In May we both graduated from college.
In June, we bought a bookstore. In July we got married and moved into our first apartment. And in August, I became pregnant with our first child. While we were young and had a lot on our plate, we were part of a small circle of friends, a house church, where several of the other couples had young infants and toddlers. We adored these children and felt ready for one of our own. Little did we know at that time how soon our dream of having “one of our own” would explode into the family we have today!
In May of 1980, just days after Mother’s Day, I became a mom. Chelsea Lynne came into the world with a perfectly round little head, bright, alert little eyes and a strong personality. After a week of being “cocooned” with Chelsea in our little apartment, the two of us decided to go back to work. Soon the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” took on a very personal meaning, as the whole village of Northampton got to know our daughter by her presence most days in the bookstore. Everyone had their tips, of course, about how to raise her, and she quickly made friends with many of our regular customers, and before long was cruising around the store in her own style, garnering the nickname of “Roly Poly” bestowed upon her by a dear lady named Miss Ethel.
By the end of the summer, Hector and I were 20 and 22. We had been married about 13 months, and our newborn daughter Chelsea was 6 weeks old. We had always talked about someday adopting when we went to a church presentation about children in India. The very next day, we walked to the local adoption agency (babe in arms) and said that we’d like to apply to adopt. We told the agency we wanted to adopt the child “most in need of a home and least likely to get one.” That became our family-building motto and at the time, we assumed that meant children from Third World countries like India.
The social worker was somewhat flabbergasted, but took us on, nonetheless. We had very little money, we owned a bookstore that was barely making ends meet, but we felt this is what we were called to do. And we wanted a baby from India.
Well, we went through the whole homestudy, and at that time the India adoption program was “closed”, but we were asked if we would consider El Salvador. We said, “Of course”. Next came numerous trips to the home of the facilitator, about 4 hours from where we lived.
A few weeks later we were called and offered a child named Douglas. He was 2 years old. We accepted on the spot and drove the four hour drive to pay our fee (we got a bank loan to do it!). Soon, the picture of this darling child arrived in the mail. We became instantly attached to this photo. In fact Hector still carries it in his wallet - 30 years later!
Well, next we were told to send a care package to the orphanage where Douglas was staying, with specific items, including blankets. Hector’s mother made homemade quilts which we sent with the other items. We were excitedly awaiting his arrival in 2-3 weeks.
About a week before he was to come, we got a call saying that Douglas had a relative “show up” and he was no longer available for adoption. While we were happy for Douglas, our hearts were broken. But on the same phone call they told us they had two other children in need of a family and we could “pick one”. One was a 2 year old boy named Jose and one was a 3 year old girl named Elsie. We had to let them know within half an hour. We were at work, in our bookstore. We locked the door, went to the back of the store and prayed. How could we choose? Why couldn’t we take both (this was not an option). How could we “get over” Douglas so fast? Finally we decided to adopt Jose. The fact that we had a baby daughter named “Chelsea” made it hard for us to imagine adopting a girl named “Elsie”. Silly reason - right?
But we are convinced that Jose was meant to be our son and we cannot imagine life without him. He is now 32 and living and working in Switzerland. Chelsea is 30, married to Lashon, mother of 6-year old Chloe and Editor-in-Chief of Comcast.net .
Well a few weeks after that phone call, on May 17th, 1981, Jose did arrive. It was shortly after some bomb scares at airports and they were not allowing people to go meet their parties at the gate. But we got special permission since we were meeting a child. Well, we were the only ones at the gate area and it was 11:00 at night. Then a cleaning lady came along and started vacuuming. Amidst the roar of the industrial vacuum cleaner, we met our son for the first time. It was pretty amazing.
He went right to Hector and started saying something that we thought sounded like “Papa”. So we thought, “How cute, he is already calling Hector his dad.” We drove an hour to my aunt’s house where we were spending the night, all the while; Jose kept saying this “papa” sound. Finally, we got to my aunt’s house and my uncle immediately said, this child needs to go to the bathroom. He wasn’t saying “papa” at all - he was saying “poopoo” his word for “I need the bathroom”. Poor little guy! We kept him waiting all that time! The really sad part was that he had scars that indicated he had probably been beaten for “accidents” so he was determined not to have an accident.
A few days after Jose’s arrival, we celebrated Chelsea’s first birthday with a big party at the bookstore. We invited a dear friend who was also a professional clown to provide the entertainment. Somehow this Smith-educated early-child-hood-development-major had forgotten that a room filled with 2 dozen children under the age of two would NOT be happy to see a clown! Yikes! It was a wild and crazy disaster, but very memorable.
Jose and Chelsea quickly became the inseparable duo – and thanks to gifts from my mom they were even dressed in matching OshKosh outfits on many days. They spent a lot of their time with us at the bookstore, charming our customers and developing a lifelong love of reading. Jose called Chelsea by the endearing name of “Chuffy”.
We were off to an auspicious start for our adoption journey!
OK, Jose had been part of our family for exactly six months when, unexpectedly, I was expecting again. So, by July 1st of the next year, (2 weeks short of our 3rd anniversary) we had our 3rd child! Isaac proved to have an intense personality and for several weeks had his days and nights mixed up. I often wondered during that first year if I was losing my mind, and quite frankly could not fathom how people survived with more than two children (I mean, seriously – you have two eyes, two ears, two hands . . . how can you manage 3 children????) I was a bit stumped and more than a little bit terrified, uncertain that I would be able to cope.
We began to realize that we could not continue to have all of the children in the bookstore every day so we started to take turns staying home with the kids, or going in to operate the bookstore. This also required us to hire additional help at the store. We weren’t really in a position, financially, to make that work, so Hector had to moonlight, first as a short-order cook at the famous “Miss Flo’s Diner” and then later at a local factory. I also began to trade child-care days with a couple of friends, meaning that for every day that I had no children (so I could work in the store), it was matched by a day when I had 6 or 7 children to care for. I quickly learned that not only could we cope with 3, but that more than 3 wasn’t really that much harder!
When we just had Jose and Chelsea to cart around, we lived without a car, taking many walks throughout the streets of the city with both kids packed into an antique carriage that had been passed down for nearly 100 years in our family. In the winter, we switched to a sled. When Isaac came along, we decided we needed a vehicle and soon became the owners of a vintage 1960’s VW “Hippie Van”. Maybe riding around in the Hippie van did it, but Isaac has mellowed out considerably since his intense infant days. He is now 28, married to his wonderful wife, Simean, a medical assistant, and works while finishing college.
Chelsea, Jose and Isaac, a dog and a hippie van - we were quite the little family. Yet we had never given up on the idea of adopting a child from India, and kept our application active, updating our homestudy. In the process, we became foster parents for teenagers (but that will be saved for another story...)
As a result, we decided we wanted to work, full-time, with teens. So, we sold our bookstore, pulled up stakes and moved back to Vermont. We were hired by a group home for teenagers and moved in the same day the current staff moved out – no transition at all! What an experience running that group home was (but that, too is another story for another day . . .)
One summer day, after doing the groceries, I pulled into the driveway at the group home to find my husband smoking a cigar (not his usual practice). He ran over to me and said “Congratulations, you have a new son!” He had just gotten the call from India, we had been selected for a newborn (preemie) baby boy with mild cerebral palsy.
Being the nit-wits that we were, we did not know that moving out of state meant that our homestudy was no longer valid, so we suddenly found ourselves having to get a brand new homestudy - hurry up, yesterday please - so that we could bring our new son - Raj - home. We had lots of delays with the new homestudy and also having to get all the immigration paperwork done. India kept calling wondering what was taking so long, telling us our baby was getting sooooo big (he was 3 lbs at birth and 7 pounds when he finally came home at 4 months of age).
Finally, the day came for him to arrive. He was being flown into Boston. My dad volunteered to drive us down to Boston. We took Chelsea along for the ride. We waited and waited in the airport - the flight was delayed - twice. At last, the “escort” got off the plane, carrying a basket - “barely bigger than a shoebox” (according to my dad) which held not one, but two babies. The other family got their baby, we got our baby and Chelsea got the basket. It was just a week before Thanksgiving, 1983.
Hector spent many late nights feeding Raj while watching episodes of Star Trek and he quickly grew bigger and stronger. Raj developed his own unique personality with a brilliant mind, terrific organizational skills and creativity. Today, he is 27, lives with his brother (our son) David and works in Philadelphia.
As noted in Story II, we were running a group home at the time that we adopted Raj. It was a Boys Town sponsored group home and we became the first “teaching parents” in the country to be certified in their program while also have 4 children of our own (are you keeping count? . . . we now have Jose, age 5, Chelsea, 3.5, Isaac, 1.5 and Raj, 4 months and we’ve been married 4.5 years!). The group home kids were all boys.
The summer after Raj arrived, we went to the NACAC (North American Council on Adoptable Children) conference which was in Chicago that year. While out there, we visited a family that had 12 children, 4 bio and 8 adopted. We had a blast at their home and saw what a wonderful difference permanence made in the lives of older kids who had been in foster care. So, we decided to leave the group home, and once again, take a leap of faith - this time to start our own, non-profit adoption agency, and maybe to adopt “a couple more kids” (LOL).
(Did I mention that when I was pregnant with Isaac, and Jose and Chelsea were babies, we were interviewed for a local newspaper during National Adoption Month and we publicly declared our “master plan” to “have two kids, biologically, and adopt two”???- God sure must have been chuckling that day)
So, anyway, we left the group home, but took 5 of the teens with us as foster-sons and we continued to do foster care for the next few years (but, oh yea, that’s another story . . .). Well, all the foster kids were boys, Jose, Isaac and Raj were boys and Chelsea was beginning to say “I want a sister!!!”
So, we updated our homestudy, and applied to adopt a U.S. special needs infant. Just after our homestudy was completed, Isaac was bitten in the face by a dog and developed meningitis. He almost died. I was sitting in the hospital at his bedside one evening, when the phone rang. It was Hector, who was holding down the fort at home with our other 3 little kids and 6 foster sons. “Congratulations,” he said, “You have a new baby.” He had just gotten “the call” about the newest addition to our family. Once again we were “offered” two babies and we had to make a choice, one was “Sydney” (a boy) and one was an “unnamed” (or so we were told) little girl. We had promised Chelsea a sister, so the decision was easy – the girl was meant to be our daughter and we named her Joelle.
Joelle had been born severely prematurely, weighing under 2 pounds. She was also alcohol exposed, possibly with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Her foster family had nick-named her “Raisin” because she was small and sweet.
The paperwork was being processed, and of course, it had to go through the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) before she could be released to travel from Florida to Vermont. I was working on the gubernatorial campaign for our state’s governor at the time and I was at her home for a campaign meeting, when I got a phone call. It was Hector, he had just had a call from the ICPC office denying our request to bring Joelle home, with the reason that it was “not appropriate” to bring an African American child into Vermont!
I shared this phone call with the governor, who made a phone call and presto - our ICPC problem vanished, although it did create a learning opportunity and began a life-long interest of ours in the intersection of race, culture, identity and family which has continued to influence our values, work and efforts to this day.
A few days later, I was on an airplane to Florida to pick up my new doll-baby. I rented a car at the airport, drove to the agency, signed all the final papers, paid the fee, etc., loaded her into the car, drove half way back to the airport and pulled over into a rest area, walked over to the picnic table and stripped her down naked - counted fingers, toes, etc.! And then dressed her back up! (She was all there!)
The date was May 21, 1985 - Chelsea’s 5th birthday. She was there, of course, to meet us at the airport, and she has forever been convinced that Joelle was her personal birthday present. She and Joelle have remained very close to this day. Joelle is now a lovely young woman, mom of 2-year old Mackell, graduate of Lincoln University and Americorps member working in a Philadelphia elementary school.
Five “forever” kids - 2 months shy of our sixth anniversary - for those who are keeping score!
May 1985 - Isaac (not quite 3) got out of the hospital after his 2 month battle with meningitis and various side effects (i.e. septic arthritis) which resulted from a facial dog-bit, and Joelle (9 months old) came home to join our family on Chelsea’s 5th birthday. In June, our oldest foster son graduated from high school, and a couple of our other foster sons returned to their bio families. We were “down” to a household of 10 - 2 parents, 3 teenage foster sons and our five babies.
Maybe we were bored - we decided what we really needed to do was to travel around the country, camping, seeing the sites and learning more about adoption by visiting agencies, families, etc. and end up at the NACAC conference in New Mexico.
SO, we bought a used (very used) pick-up truck, and a used (very used) camper that goes on top of a pick-up truck and then, as Hector likes to say, “packed up the babies, grabbed the old lady, everyone goes . . . . .” (Neil Diamond is one of our favorite singers <smile>).
We had a blast. Niagara Falls, Yellowstone Park, Yosemite, Malibu Beach, Grand Canyon, the Great Salt Lake Desert . . . the three older boys sometimes fought (argued) a lot, we stopped in a “ghost town” in Nevada and told them - “Go ahead, beat each other up!” They didn’t. Later that same day, we had ice cream in Carson City. All our little guys lined up on a bench eating ice cream cones and one-by-one they all got up and walked away. Until Raj was left alone still eating his ice cream. It was precious, I still have that visual image in my mind!
Joelle teethed on corn- on-the-cob all summer. We went on lots of hikes - Joelle on Hector’s back, Raj on mine, and Isaac (3), Chelsea (5) and Jose (6) trooping along. But, I digress . . .. .
We made it to Albuquerque, and NACAC. Met lots of social workers, lots of large adoptive families and lots of waiting kids. Seven weeks later, as we pulled back into our farmhouse in Cabot, Vermont, we knew that our next adoption was going to be a group of siblings. Little did we know that within the next three months we would be selected for 2 sibling groups of 4 children each and once again be forced to choose. (We thought we could take them all, but the powers-that-be didn’t agree!)
As soon as we saw the faces of Abel, SueAnn, George and Flory shyly smiling at us from the pages of the New Mexico adoption photo listing newsletter, we knew they were meant to be our children. Another homestudy update was mailed off to New Mexico, and when we got the packet of information on the children we learned that their psychologist recommended they be placed with parents who had “no other children” yet “extensive parenting experience” (huh?) And also “well-off financially” so that these children could be the center of attention and get all their needs met!
We didn’t quite fit those requirements. (!) But in his own words, Abel had said, “I want a dad who will introduce me as his son. I want to go camping. I want to be the oldest in the family.” And SueAnn said, “I want all four of us to stay together.” - well - we fit their description, and it was a match.
Shortly before Christmas, 1985, we learned that we had been selected for these children, and we eagerly prepared a photo album and cassette tape to send them. A visit was scheduled for January. We went to New Mexico and visited them in their foster home, and they spent a few days with us in a hotel. We have many wonderful memories from that trip - learning to do French braids and make sopapaillas by Rita, their foster mom. SueAnn throwing up in the swimming pool at the hotel. George getting a kick out of eating “chicken fingers”. Visiting their schools, meeting their friends. Riding the gondola up Sandia Peak. Sitting in a fast-food restaurant while the kids picked their own new middle names.
A few weeks later, their social worker and foster mom flew with them to Vermont for the official placement. They arrived, from New Mexico, into Vermont, in the dead of winter. As we drove to our home, we passed an abandoned house that we all called the “haunted house” of the neighborhood. Hector pulled into the driveway and said, “We’re home”. This gave the social worker and foster mom a heart attack, but broke the ice with the kids. Our other kids were thrilled with their 4 new siblings, especially Chelsea, to get a couple more sisters, including Flory - exactly her own age (they are 3 weeks apart and look enough alike to be twins!).
Abel says the first person he remembers seeing when he got off the plane was Isaac, popping gum and he came up to him and said, “Hey little dude.” Sue Ann was thrilled that she would never have to move again. Flory was scared and shy and didn’t want to leave her foster mom.
Did I mention that their psychologist also told us that these children were so “damaged” that they would probably never learn to write their names, and “forget about high school graduation”? Well, all four have graduated from high school. One (George) graduated from college, two (SueAnn and Flory) are married – to Roberto and Larry. Between them they have given us 11 grandchildren! The two girls live within blocks of our house in Philly, while George is across the river in Camden, NJ and Abel is further west in PA.
These four kids were challenging - make no mistake. Parenting them was often hard. Learning disabilities, constant school-related issues, emotional/mental health challenges, teen pregnancy - I could go on and on - yes it was tough. But so very, very worth it! I can’t begin to imagine life without any one of them. All four of them are incredibly talented – with many artistic abilities which they put to use in diverse ways from drawing and painting, to hairdressing, to making dream-catchers and jewelry to painting cars and their children are carrying on these talents in dance, music, and other activities.
OK - scorecard time - it is now January 1986. We have been married how long? (6 and a half years) and we have how many kids???? - Yeah, you got that right - NINE! Nine was Hector’s lucky number, his hockey number. We thought our family was complete.
The very next weekend, we took the children to church. Abel beamed as Hector introduced him to some friends, “I’d like you to meet my son Abel.” And for at least a little while, he was the oldest.
Throughout the spring of 1986 we were busy helping our four newest kids get settled. The last of our foster children left and we decided to discontinue doing foster care so that we could totally focus on our “little” family of 9 children.
We also decided we would not add any more children to the family. After all, 9 was my husband’s lucky number, so why would we want to mess with that.
Besides, we could help more children by investing ourselves into the agency we started, Rootwings, rather than just building our own family. So we settled down and built the agency.
And, by the way, we still had 2 kids in diapers. So, just on the outside chance that we ever did adopt again, we both agreed “NO MORE BABIES!” “NO MORE DIAPERS!” This older-kid thing was working out just fine!
In June, friends of ours were going to host some teens for the summer from Guatemala and El Salvador. Since we had adopted Jose, we felt a special affinity for this part of the world and we agreed to host one of the teens. Claudia arrived just in time for the double birthday party we had to celebrate Chelsea and Flory’s sixth birthday – Chelsea the Clown – a real-live circus clown we had met at a parade also joined us for that birthday party, and this time the kids were developmentally ready to actually enjoy a clown at their party!
Also, in June, an article about Rootwings appeared in a statewide newspaper, along with a photo of our racially-mixed family.
And so, on July 1st, while we were celebrating Isaac’s 4th birthday, (and 2 weeks before our 7th anniversary), we received an unusual phone call. It was from a woman who had just given birth to a mixed-race baby boy. She had read about our family in the paper and wanted us to adopt her son. She had been planning on adoption for awhile and was working with a private adoption counselor and attorney, but had not yet selected a family. Since her son had an African American dad, and since diversity was not rampant in Vermont, she was very concerned about finding an appropriate family for him. She felt that the newspaper article about our family was her answer!
Hector and I kept slipping out of the room where the party was in full swing talking about this baby. “No” “Yes”
“No” “Yes”. We talked, we prayed, and by the end of the birthday party we KNEW he was meant to be our son. So we called back and said, “When can we come get him?”
This was our first venture into open adoption. It felt exciting, “right” and yet a little scary to be talking “directly” with the birth mother of the child we would soon begin to raise. We instantly became friends, and made plans to drive to her home (about 3 hours from our home) on July 5th for a picnic/placement celebration. We brought all of the kids except Sue Ann who was away at summer camp. (We called the camp to let her know that she was getting a new brother!)
On the way, in the car, we told the kids as much as we knew about their new brother, Todd (named by his birth mother). We told them that he was “half black and half white”. We had a wonderful, albeit crowded, indoor picnic (it was raining), bonded with his birthmother and met several other family members, then it was time to drive home.
We didn’t have a TV in those days, but for special occasions we rented one, with a VCR, from a local store and ran a movie for the kids. This was one of those days. While everyone was watching the movie, I went to change Todd’s diaper. George came over and stood beside me, watching very closely. As I stripped Todd’s soiled clothes off him, and he lay there naked for a moment, George surveyed him up and down. Then, as I was dressing him back up, George very seriously said to me, “He’s not half black and half white” - and I realized that he had expected his new brother to be striped, like a zebra!
Well, we all had a good chuckle on that one!
I remember going upstairs to the bedroom, rocking him and touching his soft curly hair, wondering how on earth we ended up with a newborn baby! It was an unexpected miracle. He was (and still is) a delight. And we have also been very happy with our open adoption – only wishing we had been able to have similar relationships with all of our kid’s birth families.
A few days later, my parents (who NEVER babysat for our kids) volunteered to babysit so we could go out to dinner for our anniversary. We hadn’t even told them about Todd, or Claudia, for that matter. We said, “Great!” and “By the way, - SURPRISE - we have a new baby! - and, uh, also a foreign exchange student for the summer. Have a fun evening!”
Todd grew up to be a spunky, charm-the-pants-off-you young man. He lives in Philly, works in a restaurant and has a 4-year-old son, Nicoli who is a “mini-me” of Todd!
OK - scorecard - a week before our 7th anniversary and we have 10 kids. We are not doing real good on reaching Hector’s goal of being married for more years than the number of kids we have, but, hey, there’s plenty of time to catch up - right . . . . .
After Todd, our next adoption involved 6 siblings. But I am going to break the story down into 3 parts: David, Renee and Trish and then JD, Fisher and Lilly.
In case you lost track of time, we are now up to the summer of 1986 . . .
A few weeks after we adopted Todd, we attended the NACAC conference in Toronto Canada. Boy - we were either dumb or brave. We just drove across the border with a van full of 10 kids, all different races, plus an “alien” student from Guatemala. The conference was great and we were inspired to proceed with the agency we were beginning.
A few months after we adopted Todd, our newly licensed adoption agency, Rootwings, was ready for its grand opening. We had a special celebration, fancy fund-raiser and opened the doors to our humble little one-room office.
Soon, we placed a couple of kids - all from Texas into families in Vermont. It was a heady, exhilarating time, knowing that we were really helping kids get the one thing they need more than anything - a permanent, loving home. But we were funding it entirely our of our own shallow pockets, so we weren’t sure how long we could keep it going (but of course, like our foster care and group home experiences - that’s another story, for another time!)
Ever since the Albuquerque NACAC in 1985, we had been on the mailing list of the New Mexico adoption newsletter called “Los Ninos”. At the time we “found” Abel, SueAnn, George and Flory in that newsletter, we had also seen another sibling group of 6 older kids that had pulled at our heartstrings. They were African American, 3 boys, and 3 girls, the youngest being 10 at the time. Even though we had just adopted Abel, SueAnn, George and Flory, we couldn’t get the other six kids out of our minds or hearts. In early 1986, (before Todd’s adoption) we received an updated “Los Ninos” and were saddened to see those kids still in there, not yet adopted. What was even more sad was that the oldest brother – JD- was no longer listed - he had “aged out”. In the fall of 1986, after those first few exciting Rootwings placements, we received yet another “Los Ninos” update - they were still there, except this time, the two oldest brothers – JD and Fisher - were not listed. It was heart-breaking. By the spring of 1987, when we received the latest “Los Ninos” update and discovered that the oldest sister – Lilly - had also been removed, we were determined to move ahead with efforts to adopt all six of these kids.
Little did we know what roadblocks lay ahead.
We got our homestudy updated, and had it sent to their worker. Of course, we were rejected. First of all, we were too white. Secondly we were too young. Thirdly we were too poor (OK, we didn’t make much money) fourth, we lived too far away, and fifth, we already had too many kids.
We spent the next several months trying to overcome these obstacles. One by one, we succeeded in knocking these hurdles over - except for the fact that we lived too far away, in the wrong state. Before we knew it, it was August, time for another NACAC conference, this one in Florida. We packed up the whole family and drove down. While there, we happened to run into a social worker who remembered us from the first sibs we adopted from New Mexico, and she knew we had expressed an interest in this second group as well. So she asked how it was going - and we vented a bit.
Surprise, we got back home from NACAC, and there were messages from New Mexico - they were now interested in talking to us about adopting - not all six - not even the three that were still pictured - but just one, the youngest of these six sibs.
David was by this time 13. He is deaf, and also labeled as mentally retarded. They felt he still needed a home and a family. The other 5, however, were “too old” and “didn’t need a family any more”.
OK, we decided, we’ll play the game by their rules. So, we said, “Sure, we’ll adopt David.” Soon it was arranged for Hector and I to go out to New Mexico, spend several days visiting with David at the school for the deaf and a decision about his adoption would be made. This was December of 1986.
In the meantime, we hired a private sign language tutor to teach our whole family at least some basic sign language skills. We had a great trip in New Mexico, and the decision was made that we would adopt David. His foster family would escort him to Vermont just a few days before Christmas.
David was very excited. When he arrived, the kids were all eager to try out their sign language skills on him, and also to take him upstairs to show him his room. As soon as he stood in his room, with all of his 10 new brothers and sisters crowding around him, his foster family and us - he set down the suitcase he was holding and signed the words “my family” over and over. Well, at least among the adults, there was not a dry eye in the room.
This seemed to be David’s start as the family ambassador – a role he continues today. With his contagious smile, optimistic spirit, and hard-working readiness to jump in and volunteer on any family, neighborhood or church-related project, no one who meets David ever forgets him. At 36, he works at St Joseph’s University and loves Philadelphia sports teams!
We had made an agreement that we would take David back to New Mexico in January for a “farewell” party with the school for the deaf and so that his other siblings could meet us and say good-bye to David. We had begun to scheme about how we would use this occasion to raise the issue of our adopting the older sibs as well . . .
(Scorecard: By the end of 1986, 7 and a half years married and officially, 11 kids)
OK, so David was home, and we settled in to prepare for Christmas. We had six more children than we had last Christmas! We had a ball making cookies, making gifts for family and friends, playing in the snow, venturing into town for Advent services, singing Christmas carols . . . it was a great year. Much to our surprise, a friend nominated us for an award called “Vermonter of the Year” which we won. So we were in the newspaper and had a little fame and notoriety (no fortune, however!)
Soon after Christmas, we were planning our trip back to New Mexico for David’s party. We were determined to meet the other five siblings and to make a case for bringing them ALL home with us. Our trip was scheduled for mid-January, and Renee’s birthday (16th) was January 5th, so we decided to send her a gift to get the ball rolling.
We later learned that she was given the gift with no explanation of who it was from or why it was sent to her (:o(
Anyway . . . . We had a great visit at the school for the deaf and as we got ready for the party they were hosting for David. The best part, however, was meeting the other kids (well only four of the five - Lilly played varsity basketball and she had a game that night back in her hometown, so she did not come). They had been brought in by their social worker from all over the state. All they had been told was that we were adopting David - no one told them we were interested in putting their whole family back together.
The social worker was still opposed to the idea and didn’t think it was necessary. Well, we decided to talk directly to the next two kids - Trish who was 14 and Renee who had just turned 16. We told them that we were interested in adopting them too and they were shocked. But they were interested. I remember being at the school for the deaf in a small empty and somewhat dark classroom with all six of them, telling them about our family and our desire to make a family for all of them. We went out for a ride with Renee and Trish and then came back. Then the older two boys decided they wanted to go out for a ride with their caseworker and talk. Then they came back and we all had a special candlelighting ceremony to “seal” our adoption of David. We ended it by saying “We consider all of you our family now,” - you know sort of a “Mi casa es su casa” type of thing.
Later that evening was the party and the commissioner of social services for the whole state attended. We saw it as our chance, so we talked to her about our desire to adopt the other kids and the resistance we were getting. She promised to “look into it” and the next day we ended up talking to high level officials including the governor’s office.
Suddenly approval was given for us to adopt Renee and Trish and they were to come home with us when we returned to Vermont in two days!
The next day we flew in one of those little 9-seater airplanes from Santa Fe down to Hobbs where the kids had been born and the 3 oldest still lived. We finally got to meet Lilly and also see the town where they had all grown up. We met Renee’s foster family and saw the group home where Trish was living. Soon it was time to leave. But before we left, we convinced the social worker that the other 3 kids should have the opportunity to come to Vermont for a visit so they could at least know where their siblings were. The trip was planned for February - the social worker would bring them for a week. This would also give her the chance to do a follow up visit on the other three.
At the airport, we all ate lunch at a Burger King and the three kids (David, Trish and Renee) had on those silly Burger King crowns, when I looked around in the boarding area and saw the Governor of Vermont, apparently about to board the same plane. So I slipped over and talked to her, and then in a few minutes she came over to meet our kids and have a picture with us. So we still have this photo of the three kids with their Burger King crowns and the Governor!
Trish lives in Vermont with her 3 sons- Phillip ( a 2010 high school graduate), Sean, and Matthew. She is a certified medical assistant and also just passed the exam to become a phlebotomist. She has won awards for her efforts in literacy, support of special needs families and pursuing her work and education in spite of her own special needs and challenges. Renee lives in Philadelphia with her son Daniel and works at a local high school and is active in the church. She is also a frequent speaker at adoption conferences around the country.
If you are still keeping score, it is now January 1987, we have been married 7 years and 6 months and we have 13 kids! The hilarious adventures of the older three kids’ visit to Vermont in February and how they came to join our family permanently will be the subject of the next installment!
Renee and Trish started school, David was settled into his routine at the Vermont (Austine) School for the deaf, the little kids were delighted with their new big sisters and brother, Hector was splitting lots of wood to keep us warm during this cold and snowy Vermont winter . . . and soon it was time for JD, Fisher and Lilly to come for a visit, with their social worker.
The day they were due to arrive, snow was predicted. Soon “snow” became a blizzard - a real nor-easter. We had to keep calling the airline every couple hours to see if their flight was still going to come in. Finally, I drove to Burlington, still not sure if their plane would actually land - visibility was near zero. But they did land, and they were shocked to see a whirlwind of whiteness. They were wearing very “hip” and very un-Vermont-y clothes (especially in the shoe department). If I had half a brain in my head, I would have said, lets get a room in a motel near the airport and then drive to our home in Cabot (about 80 miles away) tomorrow. But no, being the idiot that I am, I thought it would be better if we just headed home.
So, we drove, slowly, through the mid-winter storm. Followed the snow plow as often as possible. Eventually we did make it safely to Cabot, and then all we had left was the 3 mile hill up to our house from the center of the village. By then about 2 feet of fresh snow had fallen on top of the layers we already had. My trusty van made it about a third of the way and then said “Sorry, no can do.” So, I said, “Well, this is it, guys, we have to walk from here.” By now it was about midnight. This hill has no streetlights and houses only about every half a mile. So it is VERY DARK!
Lilly was scared to death. JD was the strong silent one. Fisher thought it was an adventure. I told them we could lock all their things in the van and come get them in the morning, but they were sure they would be stolen, so they decided to try to carry their suitcases. Fisher also had a very large “boombox” perched on his shoulder. What a sight we were! We trudged our way up the hill, slipping and falling, laughing and crying. It was truly a great bonding experience. I am pretty sure Lilly had frostbite on her feet by the time we got home!
About half a mile before our house, a neighbor came along in his pick-up truck. He offered us a ride, so everyone climbed in the back of the truck and he got us the rest of the way home. When we got in, we made hot chocolate and hovered around the fireplace long enough for everyone to thaw out and then went to bed. As I lay in bed next to my husband, I said, “They are NEVER going to want to come back here!” (It had been our plan to ask them if they wanted to move in and be “re-united” with their siblings).
The next day, the social worker rented a car and we went on a “tour” of various Vermont sites. She fishtailed in the snow several times creating some exciting moments! We went to a high school basketball game and a few other local events. The boys (JD and Fisher) spent a lot of time helping Hector splitting wood. They also really took to the youngest kids - Isaac, Raj, Joelle and especially Todd who they immediately began to call “Bubba”. David was absolutely in heaven to have his older siblings here with him.
The night before they were scheduled to leave, we talked to them and made “the offer” that they could come and join the family anytime they wanted. Now mind you, Fisher and Lilly were both in their senior year of high school in New Mexico, JD was living on his own in an above-a-garage apartment and working in a “Chucky Cheese” pizza place. They said they’d think about it and maybe in the summer, they’d come back. The day they left was one of those picture-postcard crystal-clear Vermont winter days. It was a Tuesday.
On Thursday, Fisher called. “I’ve made up my mind,” he said. “How soon can I come?” And we said, “As soon as you want to.” and he said, “This weekend OK?” We said, “Sure.”
Fisher had a car. So I flew out to New Mexico, met up with him and we were planning to drive back. We had to drive straight through because I had an important licensing meeting for our agency that I could not miss. We drove over to say good-bye to Lilly and then when we drove over to say goodbye to JD, he said, “I think I want to come too.” So we loaded his few possessions in the car (a small Pontiac sports-type car) and hit the road - the three of us - JD, Fisher and I each taking four hour driving shifts with about 2500 miles to cover.
After about 200 miles, Fisher says to me, “I smoke, you know.” And a few minutes later, “I sometimes drink a beer.” So this was our introduction to adopting older teens! We had a blast on this drive - 53 hours later pulling into our home in Vermont. It was a definite bonding experience. Fisher wrote about it later for a school paper and he said, “Leave my home, move in the middle of my senior year, go 2500 miles to a hick town in Vermont? Was I crazy? To be reunited with my siblings and to have a family, it was worth it.” (And even though he has struggled with drug addiction and jail time, we still have no regrets).
Fisher felt he needed more time to complete high school, so we enrolled him as a junior instead of a senior. It was the best thing we did. JD was out of school so he began to work in our little family business (Oh, did I mention that we had a family business, too?) The only one that was not here was Lilly.
A month later, in late March, Lilly called. She had had a big fight with her foster family and they had told her she had to leave. NOW. Could we come and get her please. I booked a flight that day, and flew out to New Mexico to get her. The only flights we could get on such short notice were first class. It is the only time up to that point in my life that I got to fly first class. Thank God New Mexico DSS was paying! She too, decided to enroll in high school as a junior.
On the way back to Vermont, on the plane, Lilly asked me how she could really trust us. How could she be sure that we would really be committed to her and her sibs forever. I said, “We have made a commitment to you, you are part of our family now. It doesn’t matter what you do - get pregnant, go to jail, get hooked on drugs, drop out of school - no matter what happens, you are our family, we are your parents and we will all be in this together.” Little did I know that every single thing on my list of “worst case scenarios” would come true within the next 10 years! But the rest of my speech came true too - we ARE still a family and we ARE all in this together.
JD, at 42, is a hardworking dad with truck-driving and plumbing certifications, living in Vermont. He has three daughters. Fisher has many talents and abilities and is still working to put them all together and stabilize his life. He is the father of four terrific kids, all living in Vermont. Lilly has a leadership position within the Cabot Creamery in Vermont where she has worked for years. Her daughter Ashley is a college student pursuing a medical career and raising her baby Saphira.
So, it was now March, 1988. We had been married 8 years, and we had 16 kids. Not bad, eh? (And Hector was 31, I was 29). Were we brave, dedicated or just plain crazy - the jury is still out on that one! We had added 11 kids in less than 2 years. And all of that came AFTER we had said, “No more - we are finished.” Time to slow down.
Ya’think? But at least we hadn’t added anymore babies!!!! <smile>
Now that we had such an unusually large family, the most common question we were asked was “Are you going to adopt again?” and, of course, we always answered “NO”.
The 1988-89 years were rather heady times for us. After that Vermonter of the Year award, we were featured in several newspaper articles (including the New York Times), magazines (Newsweek and Woman’s Day) and even a couple of TV shows. We even met a few celebrities – Lucie Arnez and Larry Luckinbill, Willard Scott . . . In the Newsweek article, my husband was quoted as saying something like, “Well, yeah, we do have a large family, but we are not going to become one of those really crazy families with 35 kids or something . . .”
We were busy attending track meets, school concerts, plays, Little League games, etc. as well as running the agency and holding down a variety of part time jobs to keep us afloat financially. Our youngest was now nearly three and soon to be out of diapers. Hooray, the “no more diapers” day was within sight!
Two of our oldest were due to graduate from high school in June of 1989. JD was engaged and we had a wedding to plan. The three mile hill up a dirt country road was becoming a little too tough to manage with all the runs in and out of town we had to make, so we moved to an in-town house. It was truly an exciting, but busy, time for us.
Then, one day, I got a call from an agency we worked closely with in Texas. They had five babies in need of homes. All five were “older” as far as babies go - 6 months to a year rather than new born. All were African American and several had some kind of special needs. A few days later, a packet with pictures of all five babies arrived in the mail.
We succeeded in finding families for four of the five babies within about a week. The fifth baby, Alysia, peeked up at me out of a pale blue afghan in her darling picture. She was 11 months old and had cerebral palsy. The prognosis was that she would never walk, talk, feed herself etc. She would need a wheelchair and be a “total care” child. Soon we were told that if a permanent family was not found for her by the time she was a year old she would probably go into an institutional placement.
I brought her picture home. Hector took one look at her and said, “Let’s bring her home, she’s ours.” I said, “bu-bu-but - she’-she’-she’s a ba-ba-ba-baby! - I thought we said, no more babies!” He just laughed and said, “She’s ours.”
So we once again began the process of getting our homestudy updated. Well, a lot of the folks who were involved with Alysia’s case had “concerns” about our family. Once again, we had too many kids, we were too far away, and our house was not wheelchair accessible. We had a much easier time overcoming the objections this time than last, however, and in a mere couple of weeks, I was in the air, on my way to Austin. Hector was heading to California for a board meeting of a national board he was on and that was going to meet me in Austin the next day.
(Side note - Austin is a great city!)
We had a great time meeting Alysia, - we were instantly smitten -the agency held a very lovely and meaningful commitment ceremony in their chapel. Her foster family was terrific and had created a fabulous baby book/photo album for her. We met with her physical therapist, and took lots of drives around the Texas countryside, we visited the Alamo (and bought an umbrella stroller there), and after a few days we were ready to head home to the rest of our crew.
We told all the kids what Alysia’s prognosis was, and they said, “Oh yea?” They were determined to teach her to walk. Night after night, they stood her on the dining room table after dinner and “walked” her around the table from one kid to the other. They made her struggle to climb up the stairs. They danced with her. And within a few months, Alysia was not only walking, but dancing, jumping, feeding herself - doing nearly everything we were told she would “never” do. We took a video of her doing all these things and sent it down to Texas. It was a moment of triumph for Alysia and for the whole family.
She still struggles with talking, at least in conventional ways. But she sure has opinions and she surely lets us know what they are! Alysia really was our very last baby. And now she is 22 years old and has graduated from both high school and the Berkshire Hills Music Academy. She writes powerful poetry, takes amazing photographs and is a dancer living independently in Philadelphia. Oh my, where DO the years go!
1989 - our tenth wedding anniversary - and our 17th child.
When Hector and I first decided to adopt, the adoption that led to Jose, way back when, we had made a little motto for ourselves . . . we would adopt the child “most in need of a home and least likely to get on.” Of course being totally ignorant about older kids in the U.S. foster care system at the time, we logically (?) Assumed that you had to fly off to third world countries to find kids who met that criteria. And that is how it came to pass that our first two adoptions were our sons from El Salvador and India.
But as we got more involved in the larger “adoption community” and began to learn about kids “in our own backyard”, we became foster parents, eventually ran the group home and concentrated our efforts, both personally and professionally, on U.S. children with “special needs”. However, early on, we recognized our own limitations and decided that we were more equipped to parent older kids and/or kids whose special needs were in the arena of mental health, emotional challenges and/or school problems, learning disabilities and mental retardation rather than severe physical and medical challenges. Although David is deaf, Alysia felt like our first “physically challenged” child, but even she was not medically involved.
Just like our “no more babies” plan, we had also decided that we would not adopt “medically fragile/total care” children. So, when a four year old boy who was a victim of “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and was a “total care child” was referred to our agency for adoption, we didn’t even think once that we would personally adopt him.
Dylan had been born “normal” and at around six months of age he had been shaken to the extent that he suffered severe brain damage. This included severe cerebral palsy, blindness, and a developmental age that would probably never progress beyond 4-6 months old. He had been placed in a “medical” foster home and was doing well there, but would soon have to move. He was about to be placed, permanently, in an institution.
I began to review his case, hoping that I would be able to locate a family for him, when the phone rang and it was the adoption caseworker for the county Dylan was from. I knew this worker personally, as well as professionally, as she herself was an adoptive parent of a child from India and we both belonged to a support group of parents of Indian children. She said, “Sue, I feel a little funny saying this, but I’d like to ask you and Hector to personally consider adopting Dylan. I just feel in my gut that he is a Badeau.”
I was somewhat speechless, but I told her I’d talk to Hector. We discussed it, prayed, talked to the other kids, and then decided to agree to at least meet Dylan and also his foster mom. We went to her home and met them both. She cautioned us about adopting him into a home with other children, pointing at that he was a “biter” and would chomp down on fingers or other body parts that happened to come near his mouth.
We asked if we could bring him to our house so the other kids could meet him, and it was approved. Dylan is so sweet. He has an “angelic” countenance, a chubby little face and a contagious laugh. He could not see, talk, walk, sit up, or make any deliberate movements. But he could hear and laugh. He loved music (he had a favorite tape of the “Smurfs”) and weird sounds such as crinkling plastic, velcro and *farts* (or fart-like sounds one can make with one’s mouth!)
He was exactly the type of child we thought we could never adopt, but we fell in love with him immediately, and less than 24 hours later, we called the worker and said, “You were right - his name IS Badeau.”
When you adopt a “total care” child, people often say things like, “Is it really fair to your other kids?” Well, I just have to share this little story to illustrate our feelings about that. We hold family meetings and sometimes we do various exercises with the kids to stimulate their thinking about various issues, values, etc. So one night we did this exercise, where you give each person a paper (grocery size) bag and then tell them “Imagine you have to leave home for some reason and you barely have time to grab whatever you can fit in this bag and you will never see any of your other stuff again - you have 1 minute.” and then we set the timer and let the kids run through the house, filling up their bags, and then they come back and we see what each person put in their bag and we talk about how it reflects their values. Most go for photo albums, maybe a Bible, sentimental pieces of jewelry, . . . some grabbed money, food, etc. (It’s really a great exercise!). And Flory comes into the room with Dylan in her arms. And she says, “I didn’t need to grab anything, as long as I made sure I had Dylan.”
Adding Dylan to our family has been more than “fair” - we have all grown and been enriched by his presence in our lives.
(Oh, and so much for our “no more diapers” plan - Dylan will be in diapers FOREVER!!!) God always gets the last laugh, doesn’t He? A few years later, after parenting several “emotionally challenged” teenagers, Hector remarked - “You never get away from diapers - just as soon as kids outgrow the physical diapers, you are dealing with the emotional diapers. And guess what - the physical ones are a heck of a lot easier to change!”
Dylan lived to be 24 years old, adding great joy, much laughter, and a love of music to our lives. He completed high school and passed away on September 9, 2010 – his 24th birthday.
So, now, the only “type” of child we felt that we could probably never parent would be a child with terminal illness. We just couldn’t imagine making a commitment to a child that we knew would soon die. Well, you’ve seen how God works in our lives, so, all I can say is, stay tuned . . .
So about a year after Dylan settled in, and Alysia started to walk, and our first two graduated from high school, we went through a terrible time financially and had to close the agency due to lack of funds to keep it alive. It was one of the hardest, saddest, most depressing times in my life. There is MUCH MORE to that story, and some other time, I’ll tell that tale, but let’s move on . . .
Even though we weren’t officially running an agency we were still very involved in helping find families for children with special needs, working with agencies, support groups etc.
(Oh and whoever said that’s why we had a big family - LOL - I must tell you that we placed 200 children with OTHER PEOPLE during those years - we surely didn’t take them ALL home ourselves!!!)
Around this time, people used to sometimes refer to our family by tags such as “mini-United-nations” and so sometimes, we half-jokingly replied, “Well, not quite - we don’t have a Chinese child.” All in good fun, and of course in jest - because we were FINISHED adopting. There were going to be NO MORE BADEAUs of any color!
Then, a friend in adoption called one day to tell us about a 3 year old Chinese little boy with a rare terminal illness called “San Filipo Syndrome” that needed an adoptive home. Of course we had never heard of this condition, and so we began to learn about it so we could maybe help find a family for him. We learned that the life expectancy was from 8 years to 13 years. The more we learned, the more we realized how challenging children with this syndrome can be for many families. - And, as our friend quickly pointed out - “Wouldn’t he do great in a large family?”
It didn’t take a lot of phone calls to convince us - Wayne was our son. He was in some very real, very mystical, pre-ordained way, already our son, so now all we had to do was bring him home.
Another homestudy . . . .
More letters of reference . . . .
Physicals for EVERY member of the family . . . .
Lots of learning, getting the house ready, getting the kids ready. Lots of conversations about what it will be like to love a child who will die in a few years.
A judge in the other state didn’t understand why our family would want to adopt a child who was going to die. He decided not to approve the termination of the parents’ rights. We had to go down to testify at the hearing. After a very long day of waiting around, we finally had our chance. We talked about our family and how we were looking forward to bringing Wayne home. At last, the judge agreed. And then, it was time to make the six hour trip to meet his current family, spend a day getting acquainted and head home. It was Good Friday.
We had a great day, and we were ready to head home. We thought that Interstate Compact was all set. Just before we left, we found out that approval had not come through. If it didn’t come through by the end of the day, we would have to stay all weekend away from home - and miss out on spending Easter with the rest of the family.
We hung out with Wayne’s family for a couple more hours, waiting for “the” phone call. It didn’t come. It was starting to get awkward for them - they needed to have a chance to grieve in private. We didn’t have a cell phone. So we left and began driving toward home, promising to stop every so often and call the social worker for an update on the situation and promising not to cross the border until we heard the news.
We drove, stopped, phoned.
Drove, stopped, phoned.
Drove, stopped, phoned.
Whoops, crossed the state line. Stopped, phoned. Waited. Phoned. Waited. Phoned.
Finally, the approval came through about two minutes before they all closed up shop and went away for the weekend. At last, we were ready to drive home and let the rest of the kids meet their newest brother.
It was a joyous Easter indeed.
I wrote some of my thoughts about Wayne as a reflection on his birthday in October of 1999. If you missed it, now might be a good time to read it before going on with our story.
Wayne is a delightful child and we are so glad that we broke our “rule” about not adopting a child with a terminal illness. Our hearts will be absolutely broken when he dies, but the joy he has brought to us during his life will make every tear worth its weight in diamonds. He has already outlived his “life expectancy” by over 10 years and we are beginning to imagine he might always be with us . . . .
Wayne joined us in 1991. He was our 19th child. It was 3 months before our 12th anniversary.
And we were REALLY finished . . . . .
Between Wayne’s arrival in the spring of 1991 and Thanksgiving of 1994, many changes occurred in our family life – but no new children were added to the family. We saw two more of the kids graduate from high school, we picked up and moved the entire family to Philadelphia, 4 grandchildren were born and we provided short term foster care for dozens of babies with special needs in between their birth in the hospital and their placement with their adoptive families.
In the fall of 1994, we got another one of “those” life-changing phone calls. A good friend, also the parent in a large adoptive family, called to tell us that there was another child with San Felipo Syndrome – 6 year old Adam- in foster care in Florida who desperately needed a permanent family – would we consider adopting him.
At first we said “NO”, but for some reason, this kept nagging at us. We had been referred and said “NO” to many other children over the years – even though we have a large family we did not adopt EVERY child that agencies called us about. We had to truly feel “right” about each child, through conversation and prayer, to be convinced that each child was meant to be our son or daughter. And so, saying “NO” to Adam just did not “feel” right to us, as much as we were “sure” we were not going to adopt any more children. So, we prayed and talked and ultimately decided that if we could raise one child with San Felipo Syndrome, we could raise two, so we said “YES”.
Unlike Wayne, who had been nurtured and adored by his family prior to his adoption by us, Adam not only had San Felipo Syndrome, he also had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, had been neglected and abused and moved among several foster homes in his short lifetime. We also learned that he had a sister (Angel) that had been adopted by an aunt, and a brother (Aaron) who was still in foster care.
We told the agency that we would adopt both Adam and Aaron, based on our commitment to keeping siblings together. The agency, however, had different plans for Aaron (next installment!) We completed a new homestudy, had several conversations with the kids, and finally everything was ready for Adam to come home.
The day after Thanksgiving, 1994, I flew down to Florida to meet our newest son and bring him home. When I met him, I was stunned at the physical similarities between Adam and Wayne, even though they were of different races. Clearly the San Felipo Syndrome had a big impact on physical development. Adam’s personality, however, was very different from Wayne’s – the FAS and early life abuse and neglect had really taken a toll on him.
Adam was a handful for me while we waited in the airport for our flight home, and he chanted and moaned a lot on the flight, much to the consternation of our fellow flyers. Little did I know the day I brought him home that just five years later, he would be gone.
Losing a child was an unspeakably devastating experience. When adopted we had hoped he would live to the later end of the projected lifespan, and he had been the happiest and healthiest he has ever been in the last several months so we had no way of knowing the end was so close.
Thankfully, he died peacefully in his sleep.
Nevertheless, it was a trying time for our family. Some of the children took the death very hard, as they were closer to Adam than others. All grieved in their own ways. And so many of my children have suffered previous traumatic losses in their own lives, each new grief triggers all the old grief as well. It was a challenge to be there to support all of them while still coping with our own grief.
No matter what the circumstances -you just shouldn't have to bury a child. It never feels right.
This would be a good time for you to read a special piece I wrote about Adam, for his 11th birthday, which then became the eulogy at his funeral- it will give you a better sense of Adam as a person. We love you Adam and we will never forget you!
As I mentioned in the last installment, when we adopted Adam, we knew he had a younger brother (4 years old at the time) Aaron who was also in need of an adoptive home. The day I had gone to Florida to get Adam, I had met Aaron at the foster home. Aaron was sick and sad, sitting on the sofa like a little blond rag doll.
Although Aaron did not have the terminal illness that Adam did, he does have special needs of his own - including attention deficit disorder, developmental delays and fetal alcohol effect. Nevertheless, he was white, blond, young and cute and so his agency decided that he would have a lot better chances at an adoptive home without being “saddled” with his profoundly disabled brother (their words). They also felt that while a large family like ours was OK for Adam, Aaron didn’t need to “settle” for a “second rate” family like ours. “Besides,” they told us, “these two boys don’t even really know they are brothers. Surely Adam doesn’t with his disability, and Aaron, well, he is so young, he’ll forget about Adam soon enough.”
We, of course, profusely disagreed with their assessment, nevertheless, their decision prevailed. Or so they thought . . .
My daughter SueAnn was about 18 at this time (1995). She had been one of four siblings we adopted together back in 1986. She was outraged at the agency’s decision, especially their view that the boys didn’t know they were brothers. She wrote a letter to the head of the agency vociferously expressing her views.
By then, however, an adoptive family had been found for Aaron and he was placed. At about this time, Aaron began to “de-compensate” (love the lingo, eh?) And was more-or-less “off-the-wall” in his new home and after about 6 weeks of placement there, the adoptive mom said “Enough!” and the placement was disrupted.
(Side note . . . . isn’t it interesting the words we use to describe experiences that are nothing short of cataclysmic in the lives of children . . . I mean, come on, here is a 4 year old boy who has been moved several times already, finally getting a new home and then abruptly yanked away from it and all we say is that the “placement disrupted”.)
So, now that the agency is desperate to place this child and he has disrupted and so earned a label of “hard-to-place”, and while SueAnn’s letter is still sitting on their desk . . . bingo - they call us. “Ah, we were wondering, would you still be open to adopting Aaron?” Well, I have to tell you about the day that the social worker brought him to Philadelphia. It was the first school day after Memorial Day weekend in 1995. All the kids were in school when Aaron arrived. We spent an hour or so getting acquainted, when it was time for the school buses to arrive - Adam’s being first. Hector asked Aaron if he’s like to walk down to the corner to wait for Adam’s bus. He eagerly said yes. So Adam and Hector, hand-in-hand, set off for the bus stop. The rest of us watched at a respectful distance.
The bus approached. The door opened. The aide led Adam down the bus steps. Adam looked up and saw Aaron. His face exploded with joy. Now this is a child with a gorgeous smile but who rarely uses it. And he lit up - instantly. Aaron ran to him and gave him a huge bear hug and said, “My brother, my brother.”
Well, I will tell you there was not a dry eye among us - the bus driver, aide, Hector, me, the social worker . . . . We were all in tears.
They didn’t know they were brothers . . .. . Harrumph!
It was truly wonderful and magical and reinforced everything I ever believed about keeping siblings together.
Aaron is a tall, strong young man, living in Philadelphia and has a young son, Aaron Junior, lovingly called AJ. Aaron had many struggles as a teenager, but completed high school and is working hard to get his life on track as a young adult of 20 at this time.
And, so, there was our 21st child, home at last. May 28, 1995. A little shy of our 17th anniversary.
Just one story left . . . . Stay tuned . . . . .
Here it is - the last adoption installment in the Badeau family adoption docu-drama! (Fear not - I haven’t even started on the foster care stories yet!!!)
My husband, Hector, had a small business selling firewood to people in our neighborhood in Philadelphia. It is more of a hobby than a business, although his proceeds usually do provide our Christmas and winter heating money (although so far this year, business has been slim, indeed, so Christmas is going to be even slimmer than usual - but, I digress . . . ). His business partners were our sons Isaac and Raj (who was adopted from India - I say this only because it becomes important in this story).
So, in 1996, Hector was delivering a truck load of wood to one of his “regular” customers, (a family who - unbeknownst to us at that time - has a daughter who is adopted from India). Hector happened to have Raj with him on this particular delivery. The customer struck up a conversation with Hector and Raj, asking if Raj was adopted and telling about their own experiences adopting from India. Then they suddenly remembered seeing an article about our family and said, “Oh are you THAT family - the one with ALL THOSE kids?”
After hearing that we were, indeed, THAT family, they quickly pulled Hector aside and began to tell him about another young girl from India that was currently in foster care here in the states and that needed an adoptive family desperately. Could we help?
Well, for the thousandth or millionth or bazillionth time we had clearly and firmly told ourselves, our families and the entire world that we were not adopting any more kids. So, of course, Hector immediately said, “Tell me more about her.”
Well, a series of phone calls ensued, and while we felt certain that we were not in a position to adopt her, we hoped that our network of connections within the adoption community might be brought to bear for the task of finding her a family.
Geeta had been brought to this country as a 5 year old after several years as a “street” child in India. She had some speech-language and other developmental challenges. Then, her first adoptive placement disrupted (there’s that word again) and she went into foster care. For the next 8 years, she moved between several foster homes, 2 more pre-adoptive homes and one institutional placement. There is, of course, a lot more horror and trauma involved in her history that I cannot comfortably disclose here.
So, we ended up going to the agency that had responsibility for Geeta and met with them. We brainstormed ideas as to how they could locate an appropriate family for her. We helped get her listed in various places and “plugged her in” to our network of resources. Then, we went on with our lives.
A year and a half later, in the summer of 1998, Hector and I were at an adoption conference in our state. We ran into Geeta’s social worker and Hector innocently asked, “So, whatever happened to Geeta, did she get adopted?”
And the social worker not-so-innocently answered, “No, she still needs a family, in fact she has moved twice more since we last talked to you and the foster home she is in now is temporary and needs her to move out before school starts. Are you interested?”
To which Hector replied, “Tell me more.”
It was about 2 weeks after that chance conference coffee-break encounter that Geeta moved in and became our 22nd child.
She did, indeed, bring many challenges with her, and yet at the same time, she was very sweet, loving and fun. And SO thrilled to have a family at last. And we KNOW she was meant to be our daughter, because years before, I KNEW in my heart that one day we would have a second child from India.
Geeta graduated from high school and completed a vocational program. She lives in Philadelphia and, at 27, is the mom of 3 beautiful little daughters, Titianna, Tianna and Nicole.
So, there you have it – by 1998 we had been married 19 years and had 22 children that are ours forever.
The End (unless you want to hear about the foster care stories, the group home stories, the “unofficial” kids, the Refugee kids, the grandchildren and now, even the great grandchildren!)
(PS –Since I originally wrote this, we did indeed celebrate many more anniversaries (our 31st anniversary in the summer of 2010) without adopting anymore children – so we reached and passed Hector’s goal of being married for more years than the number of children we have!)
To learn more about the Badeau family's incredible journey, including updates, be sure to check out their book, "Are We There Yet? The Ultimate Road Trip: Adopting & Raising 22 Kids" available on Sue's website, Amazon and many other booksellers.