|Our crew of kids 2012.
I grew up greatly admiring the Walter family. They had seven children, a combination of biological and adopted, and had been the people to encourage my parents to adopt. I had seen the photo albums from when I was little with our two families sharing fun memories together. I didn't remember the activities since I was too young, but it was clear from the pictures they were wonderful times. When I was eleven years old my family traveled to New York for our first Walter wedding. My dad was officiating the ceremony of the oldest daughter, Robin, and we were all invited to the celebration.
Attending that wedding changed my life. The event definitely had an impact. It became the standard for my own future, and the reason there was a lip sync performance at my reception. But even more than the actual wedding was the time I spent in the Walter home. There were so many people. There was hustle and bustle, noise, and activity. There were people coming and going and something was happening all the time. And I loved it. I loved the sibling interactions, the conversations, the laughter, the meal times, and the dancing. It was that summer a seed was planted in my heart. I wanted a big family.
Now I didn't fully realize at the time, just how big my family was going to be or how it was going to come together. I just had this feeling in my young heart this was the future household I wanted.
It's one of the things I love about being married to my husband. I mean despite his obvious good looks and charming personality, he also came from a big family. I remember Sunday afternoon lunches with his family when we were dating. Once again I loved the noise, laughter, and conversation. At that stage of my life I wanted 6 kids and Matt wanted 12. Well, 15 years later we have 10 who call us "mom and dad," 2 who went straight from my womb to heaven, and 6 more we loved for a time while we were their foster parents. Our home has always been full of children, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
It hasn't always been easy. I remember going shopping with more babies than there was room in the cart. It was quite a challenge to find space for the groceries around the children. There was a time when I needed to plan an extra twenty minutes before a trip to make time to buckle everyone properly into their car seats. Now as my children grow older they are going in many different directions all at the same time. I can't tell you how many times I've needed to be at multiple events all at once. Life is full of constant juggling.
Our grocery bill is enormous, the dirty laundry pile is always overflowing, and it is never quiet during waking hours. I know some people look at us and shake their heads in wonder. But I look around my home and love what I see. Well, maybe not the mess, but definitely the people. I see an unshakable bond that has been tested but continues to hold strong. I see memories being made and love being shared. I see family.
|Our crew of kids 2019.
One of my favorite movies is Cheaper By the Dozen. The movie stars Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt and tells the story of their large family with twelve children. I can identify with a lot of the film like the family van being full of fast food garbage, the chaos of school mornings, and the parent's struggle to balance work and family. It's also full of funny moments like when the kids soak their oldest sister's boyfriend's underwear in meat. My favorite part of the movie is towards the end. One of the kids has run away and the family is out looking for him.
The next door neighbor says to the mom, "I always knew one of your kids would land on a milk carton. Twelve is just too big a number...you'll never find him."
To which the mom responds, "Oh, we'll find him. Like you said, twelve's a big number."
Having a large family isn't always sunshine and roses. And being the mama of children who have difficult histories of abuse and neglect adds a layer of complexity. Recently my family has walked through a very challenging season. One of my teenage children decided they didn't want to live here anymore. Adoption can be messy. It's a wonderful thing that I fully support, but it comes with its challenges. The trauma some of my children endured before coming into my home is heartbreaking and it has had long term effects. I can understand attachment disorder and trauma in my head, but it doesn't make walking through rejection any less painful for my heart.
In the movie, the young boy who runs away is soon found, and the family is able to reconcile. In just a few minutes everyone is hugging and smiling and everything is okay again. I wish I could say my story was the same. Minutes turned into hours which turned into days that turned into weeks which became months and still my child didn't return home. I was left to carry the weight of not knowing what to do. Although my child felt independent at 16 years old, I knew they still needed direction. They had two more years until adulthood and the completion of high school. I knew both in my head and my heart their future was at stake and the possibility of difficult life-long consequences was looming in front of them if they continued down their current path.
But friends, like Bonnie Hunt says in the movie, "Twelve is a big number." I am blessed to be wrapped in a big family. There hasn't been a moment my family hasn't been praying for me and supporting me. There hasn't been a moment they haven't had my back. And when a solution was found, it was with family.
Even though I didn't know what to do, I did know who to call. When I reached out for help the person on the other end of the phone simply said, "That's what family does."
There still hasn't been a movie ending to this story. My child still isn't living at home with me. My heart still aches. I still don't know what the future holds. But I have hope. I have hope because my child is with family.