Tales with a 12 Passenger Van

My husband and I never intended to have a big family. But I think once you own a huge 12 passenger van as your primary family vehicle, you’ve officially hit “big family” status. It surprises me that our van no longer seems giant to me anymore or that 6 kids doesn’t seem like a lot, but I am reminded that our lifestyle is different and unique by the way people stare as we walk around like we are part of a parade, or ask us why we have such a big van and if “all those kids are really yours?!” (to which I just point to my “yes they are all mine” t-shirt and smile). Yes, we chose a path that not many choose to follow and some days I still wonder what we have gotten ourselves into. But this is us and day by day we make it work.

We decided to pursue adoption through foster care in 2013, after we found a 2 year old boy wandering alone in a parking lot. After caring for the boy for a few hours and seeing the state his mother was in when she finally came to find him, we realized it was time for us to open our home to a child that needed one. We sent away for the paperwork the next day, but that paperwork sat on our counter for an entire year because we were too scared to turn it in. We finally overcame our fears long enough to send them in and the process was officially under way.

Since we already had three young kids living in a small ranch, we decided to expand our house to make room for our growing family. By summer of 2015, we had finished all the paperwork, classes, and home study, but were right at the beginning of renovations when we got a call about a newborn. We were shocked and completely unprepared but said yes. After a frantic trip to Target to buy all things baby, we brought Sam home from the hospital the next day. My husband and I walked out of the hospital carrying this little 13 day old baby, and we just looked at each other and said, “I can’t believe we are walking out of here with a baby!” It was such a strange feeling to have a newborn without having given birth to him. Even though our youngest biological child was almost 6 at the time, it didn’t take us long to get back into the swing of life with a newborn. We were soaking in every moment with this new little guy and we were all just smitten. The next ten months were filled with sleepless nights, nonstop construction, doctors’ appointments, visits with his birth mom, worrying about Sam’s future and everything else that comes with raising 3 kids plus fostering a baby. When Sam was 10 months old, we got a call about a brother and sister, ages 6 and 9. Keep in mind we already had a 9, 8, 6 and 10 month old at home. We had no plans to take in more children anytime soon, if at all. But those kids needed a temporary home, so we agreed to meet them before we made a decision. After playing together at a park for a couple of hours, we talked it over with the kids and we all agreed. So one week later, C and S moved in.

We suddenly found ourselves with 6 kids in a newly renovated home that now felt too small yet again and driving two cars everywhere since neither car could fit all 8 of us comfortably (cue the giant 12 passenger van we lovingly call The Beast). The first few months being a family of 8 were hard. Really hard. If I am honest, I have never felt such a strong range of emotions in all my life and many days I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. But we were slowly figuring out how to make life with 6 kids work. And as we were figuring this out, even though every single day was hard, we were falling in love with these two new kids. They came from a rough place and because of that, had a lot of work to do, but they were making progress in our home and overall things were going pretty well.

During all of this, we were able to adopt our sweet Sam in December 2016 and it will forever be one of the best days of my life. Fostering him for 16 months was nothing like I had expected and his little life and personality brings so much joy to our entire family. Sam helps get us through the rough days and we need him just as much as he needs us.

In May 2017, we were able to adopt C and S. At first, we planned on them staying temporarily, but as time went on, we all realized that they were a part of our family and it just wouldn’t be the same if they left. Telling the two of them that we were filing the paperwork to adopt them is a night I will never forget. For them, it was a moment they had waited years for and for us, seeing their joy and relief and seeing some of their fears melt away, was life changing.

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Our experiences with fostering and adopting, one with a baby and one with older children, were so different that it is hard to even compare them. Adopting a baby has had its own set of challenges and adopting older kids has a different set of challenges, which we are still navigating constantly. This path we have chosen is not an easy one and just because adoption day has passed, that doesn’t mean everything is suddenly fixed and right. Adoption is beautiful and amazing and absolutely worth it, but it is also emotional and messy and terrifying. We still struggle daily with many different things- the dynamics between having kids so close in age (did I mention that they are now 11, 10, 9, 8, 8 and 2??), the many effects of trauma, the fighting (so much fighting), the whining and tattling and just trying to figure out what is best for each kid. Some nights we feel defeated and discouraged but at the end of every day, as exhausted as we may be, we have 6 beautiful kids tucked into their beds, that either know or are learning, that they are loved and safe, and that our family is a team that sticks together and will always be there for each other.

So we may be a crazy, big, loud family, but it is mine and I am thankful for the way we all came together. I wish we lived in a world that didn’t need adoption or foster care, but since we do, I will forever be glad that we put our fears aside and did something hard and scary because it has made us who we are and has changed all eight of us forever.

 


About the Family

Jake, a firefighter, and Lauren, a stay at home mom, live with their 6 kids on the North Shore. They became parents in 2006 when their first daughter was born and quickly added a son and another daughter to the mix. As if life wasn’t busy enough with 3 young kids, they decided to adopt from foster care, and in 2016, adopted their sweet curly-headed son. Not long after that, in 2017, they adopted a beautiful sibling group, ages 9 and 7. With 6 kids and a massive van,  they are pretty easy to spot driving around town. Mom and Dad say 6 kids is enough but the kids say otherwise- if it were up to them, we’d fill the 4 empty seats in our 12 passenger van! Every day is an adventure and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

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