There are three of them. There are three of them. There are three of them. This was the conversation my parents had when three foster kids were delivered to our house. The whole world seemed to have stopped. The little boy, Ellis, with messy, curly, lice-infested blond hair that covered his face was sixteen months old. The twin girls, Myckee and Mae, three months old but appeared to be newborns. They were now in our care.
I had grown up with my brother; he’s actually more than a year older than me, but because of his health issues we have always been in the same grade and equal in our place in the family. His name is Austin. He has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and uses a large electric wheelchair when he is not in his hospital bed. My mom adopted Austin while she was trying to get pregnant with me. She finally got pregnant a couple of weeks after Austin was placed with her. He has always needed a lot of care. Austin cannot feed or clean himself, dress himself, or roll over in his bed. He is fed through a feeding tube and he cannot reach his head (even his good hand). But, he is smart and funny. He isn’t smart and funny the way people expect a quadriplegic person to be. I do not mean he understands words people are saying and can occasionally have an appropriate comment. I mean he is really smart; he went to a regular high school, graduated with honors, tried to override the parental controls on our DVR when he was locked out of a movie he wanted to see but didn’t want to ask our parents. And he is sarcastic with a sharp, dark wit. We have been in class together since sixth grade; for most of that time I would rather hang out with him than any of the other able-bodied kids in our class.
Austin and I were juniors in high school. It was the week after Thanksgiving when our mom told us that she spoke to the caseworker about some newborn twins we heard about. Two little girls born ten weeks early addicted to meth, cocaine, and marijuana. Mom thought we could take them for a couple of months while their birth mother went to rehab. She thought to get them on a schedule, set up with nursing care, the correct doctors and therapists, and arrange for their feeding tube surgeries, would be overwhelming to their birth mom struggling with her own addiction. Mom believed if she could coordinate those things for the girls while their mother completed her inpatient treatment, they would have a better shot at life.
Our dad hesitantly agreed to take them; it seemed like it was the right thing to do. That’s normally how it worked. My mom would take on a big project, and my dad, my siblings, and I would go along with it. Paul and Clyde, my other two brothers, were in fourth grade. They were excited about getting babies. However, my three brothers and I did not realize what would happen next.
Once we got the babies, everything changed. The twins were withdrawing from drugs they had in utero. The meth and cocaine made them shake and scream constantly. They did not sleep well and needed constant attention during the night for fear that due to the drugs they might choke and stop breathing.
My mom stayed up with them at night and in the mornings would get my brothers dressed for school. I drove my three brothers to school, my dad went to work, and my mom stayed home with the babies. She never stopped, going from one person who needs help to the next. As the weeks went by, she was visibly losing weight and her already thin brown hair got thinner. The dark circles under her eyes became her normal appearance. Mom tries to take care of everyone all the time. This meant putting her energy in two juniors in high school, two fourth-grade boys, and three drug-addicted babies.
Ellis, the sixteen-month-old boy, was a different story. He was kept in a crib most of the time at his biological home, so he did not know how to walk. He had also been given marijuana whenever his biological parents wanted him to go to sleep. Because of all this, he had to overcome many things, but the biggest obstacle was his distrust of people trying to help.
We were all getting a routine set for this new life with seven kids. It went from being my moms project to a family project, we were all fully invested in the babies. A couple of months after the babies arrived, my parents went to the scheduled meeting to discuss the biological parents’ progress toward getting the babies returned to them. It would have been reasonable to have made a plan for when those parents would have entered rehab and set a tentative date to return the babies, but rather than that, the biological parents indicated they were going to continue to use illicit drugs and informed everyone at the meeting that she was pregnant again. So, last August, the baby’s biological mom had another child whom she abandoned at the hospital. We did not want him to be separated from his siblings, so he came home from the hospital with us, making him child number eight.
Fitting eight kids and two adults in our three-bedroom house was a tight squeeze, but we made room for everyone. My parents had the baby in their room and took care of his needs. The girls’ room had Myckee, Mae and I in it. In the boys’ room was Paul, Clyde, and Ellis. Austin’s wheelchair did not fit in any of the bedrooms, so he slept in the living room (which he would argue is not the living room, but his room).
They have all grown tremendously since they first came to us. Ellis is now three, and he can run and jump. He loves and trusts us as his family. Myckee and Mae both have cerebral palsy due to the drugs the received. They just turned two, and are now learning to walk with the assistance of a walker. The baby who also has cerebral palsy is now one. He is in physical therapy because he is not able to crawl yet. His name is Rhymington, but we call him Goose. All four of them have issues that they are trying to overcome, but they are doing so much better than anyone expected.
Life has changed a lot since we got these kids. Dinner has become an assembly line to get people fed, no longer just eating at the dinner table. Getting people ready for bed starts around 6:30 at night and we have to get up at 5 in order to leave the house by 7. But it all becomes worth it when it is clear the babies have accepted us just as much as we have them.
Ellis went from not wanting any physical contact, to wanting to be held every morning when he wakes up. Myckee is tough and defends her siblings from the outside world, but trust us to take care of her and them. When Mae gets in trouble, she looks up, bats her eyes, and says “daddy” for him to make all of her problems go away. Goose goes from screaming to being content when Austin talks to him and tells him how to navigate the world.
I didn’t know the day we got them, how big an impact they would have on the rest of my life. We are planning on adopting these four kids this February, officially making them part of the family. Two years ago we thought our family would temporarily foster twin girls for a few months. Things didn’t go as planned; they turned out better. At the beginning of next year, my parents will adopt all four of the babies and officially make them part of our family forever.
There were three of them. There are four of them. Soon there will be eight of us.