“Where We All Belong”

As a teen with six siblings through foster adoption, I get a lot of questions about my large, “strange” family. So how do I reply?

Julia Baxter with her family, including four new siblings through foster adoption, on their adoption day

Picture this: You’re sitting at your friend’s house, and three of you are watching a movie, when you get a phone call from your mom. As you pick up, you wonder what is so urgent that she couldn’t have just texted or told you when you got home. You answer, hear her excited voice launch into a story—and your phone starts to slip from your grasp as her words sink in.

You knew that your parents were going through the process to become parents again, through foster adoption, you knew that they were finally able to start accepting children into your home—you knew this was coming—and yet you’re overcome with shock as your mother excitedly tells you that you might be able to accept a sibling group of four children into your home. Soon.

You smile and nod, even though she can’t see you, as a million thoughts rush through you at once. When your mother finishes talking, you get off the phone so you can process what you were just told. You turn to your friends and say, “Well, I just got four more siblings.” One of your friends knew about your family’s plans. She’s also shocked, and asks how you think you’ll handle that many siblings, but soon goes back to watching the movie. Your other friend, however, speaks up, commenting that it’s “not normal.” As you explain the situation to him, it becomes more real, and soon you have to get up and pace your friend’s house.

Sudden Siblings

This is the scenario I went through one afternoon almost a year ago. I’m not going to lie to you and say that I was immediately in love with the idea. Can you blame me? My parents already had three biological kids (including myself) and two children, Cruz and Donavan, whom they’d adopted years before. And now, in the span of a seven-minute phone call, the number of brothers and sisters I had had just doubled. My emotions jumped around from jealousy that I would have to share my parents with even more siblings, to excitement about meeting the kids, to curiosity as to what their stories were. My emotions changed so many times that I felt dizzy, but I finally settled on complete and utter joy and anticipation.

After finishing the movie, then going to another extracurricular activity, I went home that evening—and was disappointed not to see the kids there already (even though my mom had told me that they wouldn’t be home yet).

The next day, my mom told me she had learned that we wouldn’t be able to take in these kids after all. I hadn’t even met these children, yet I felt like my world had shattered. The only thing worse than how I felt was seeing my mom’s face as she told me. I could see the pain and disappointment in her eyes. I felt her heartbreak as the words left her mouth.

And then, a few days later, we were told that we would be able to take custody of the two girls of the sibling group. We were elated! Mom decorated their bedroom with a Frozen theme in record time.

I was so happy to meet Zaniya, age seven, and Malaya, four, when they came home that night. They immediately asked if they could go and play in the yard, so we all spent our first few hours together outside. At dinner that evening, they both ate plate after plate, and we slowly began to learn about all they’d been through.

There were some ups and downs as the evening wore on, but I will never forget a moment that happened the next morning. I came to the table for breakfast and the two girls greeted me with smiles. Taking cues from my younger brothers, they both called me “Sissy.” They were already part of the family. From that moment, I felt sure that they belonged with us.

One week later, their two brothers, three-year-old Imareon and two-year-old Johan, came home to us as well. Our family felt complete. Before a year would pass we’d be able to officially adopt all four of these children. [The photo above shows all of us, including the judge, on their adoption day.] Zaniya had been taken from her parents as a baby, and the rest of her siblings entered care as they were born. The process went quickly because their parents’ rights had been terminated just before they came into our care and the people working with them were anxious to get them into a good home. Nothing in this world makes me happier than knowing that they will be part of our family forever.

Feeling Our Family Is Complete

People like to ask me questions about our strange family. They ask what it’s like to have that many other kids around me all the time, and if my parents give me proper amounts of attention. Some have even asked me if the kids are “worth it.” In response, I usually share one of the following two answers.

My mom and I like to joke that it was so nice of other people to have her kids for her, so that she didn’t have to, but I honestly feel like my brothers and sisters through adoption were meant to make it to us eventually. They might have had a rough path here, but they are here now, and our family would be incomplete without any single one of them.

The other answer I like to give is this true story. One day my family and I were at the zoo, and we were walking through the African animals section. Zaniya, who is African-American, like her three biological siblings, walked up to a big map of Africa and said, “Mommy! Look, that’s where we belong!” She had meant to say “are from” (even though they were all born in Nebraska), but my mother decided to respond to Zaniya’s words. She bent down, looked Zaniya in the eyes, and said, “No, Zaniya, that’s where your ancestors are from, but that’s not where you belong. No matter what happens, know that you belong with me, with our family.” Zaniya grinned from ear to ear and skipped away to look at the animals.

I haven’t said much about adopting my younger brothers. They came to live with us when Donavan was three months old and Cruz was just under the age of two. We were able to adopt them after about three years. I don’t talk much about their adoption anymore because I can’t remember all the details, and, more importantly, I can’t remember what my life was like before them. Nor do I want to. The idea of living my life without being able to see their glowing faces every step of the way sounds horrible. Cruz and Donavan opened my eyes up to what the real world is like. They showed me the meaning of the word resilience and the true purpose of adoption. People used to tell me that my parents “saved those boys.” In some ways, that’s true. However, “those boys” really changed our lives for the better, and I think saved us, too. I’m glad that I’ll never have to know what my life would have been like without them in it.

People wonder how my family can handle this much work. They wonder how we make it from day to day with nine kids in the family. They call my parents “saints” and they ask me how I can be so tolerant toward these additions to my life. What I wish these people would understand is that my parents’ decision to adopt is the best thing that has ever happened to me.


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